Macron prepares to snub Scholz in Paris – POLITICO

BERLIN/PARIS — Relations are now so frosty between Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz, the leaders of the two economic powers in the EU, that they even struggle to agree on whether to be seen together in front of the press.

As the French president and German chancellor prepared for a tete-a-tete in Paris on Wednesday, Berlin announced they would be making a joint appearance in front of the cameras, which is normally the driest of routine diplomatic courtesies after bilateral meetings.

But on Tuesday evening, a statement from the French Elysee Palace contradicted the German announcement, saying no press conference was scheduled.

If confirmed, it would be quite a snub for Scholz, who travels with a whole press corps to Paris, and from there continues to Athens for another state visit. Denying a visiting leader a press conference is a commonly applied political tactic to issue a rebuke, as Scholz did recently during Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s visit to Berlin.

“Presumably there has been a lack of contact and exchange between the respective new government teams of Scholz and Macron so far,” said Sandra Weeser of the Liberal Democratic Party of Germany, who sits on the board of directors. Franco-German Parliamentary Assembly. “So we are certainly also at the beginning of new interpersonal political relationships, for which trust must first be built.”

The brawl over a media show is just the latest episode in a growing feud between the EU’s two biggest powers.

In recent weeks, Scholz and Macron have clashed over how to deal with the energy crisis, overcome Europe’s impotence on defense and the best approach to deal with China.

Last week, these tensions were exposed to the public when a planned Franco-German cabinet meeting in the French town of Fontainebleau was postponed until January amid major differences over the text of a joint declaration, as well as plans contradictory holidays of certain German ministers. The disagreement between the two governments was also widely visible at last week’s EU summit in Brussels.

As Scholz and Macron meet in Paris on Wednesday for a “working lunch”, which has been hastily set up to replace the canceled Cabinet meeting, politicians and officials across Europe will be watching closely to see whether the two block heavyweights can find a way back to unity if needed. The war in Ukraine and the inflation and energy crisis strained European alliances, just when they were needed most.

French officials complain that Berlin does not treat them enough as a close partner. For example, the French say they were not told in advance about Germany’s €200 billion energy price relief package – and they made sure their counterparts in Berlin are aware of their frustration.

“During my talks with French parliamentarians, it became clear that Parisians want closer and closer coordination with Germany,” said Chantal Kopf, an MP for the Greens, one of the three parties in the coalition. power in Germany, and member of the board of directors of the Franco-German Parliamentary Assembly.

“Until now, this cooperation has always worked well in times of crisis – think, for example, of the recovery fund during the coronavirus crisis – and now the French rightly also want the answers to the current energy crisis, or how to deal with China, to coordinate closely,” Koff said.

A similar conclusion is drawn by Weeser of the FDP, another coalition partner in the Berlin government. “Paris is irritated by Germany going it alone on the gas price curb and the lack of support for joint European defense technology projects,” she said. At the same time, she accused the French government of dragging its feet on a new pipeline link between the Iberian Peninsula and northern Europe until recently.

Unprecedented tensions

More recently, the French government was angered by news that Scholz was planning to travel to Beijing next week to meet Xi Jinping in what would be the first visit by a foreign leader since the Chinese president was granted a third mandate breaking with the norm. Germany and China are also planning their own show when it comes to government consultations scheduled for January.

The thought at the Elysee Palace is that it would have been better if Macron and Scholz had visited China together – and preferably a bit later than just after the Chinese Communist Party congress where Xi won another term. According to a French official, a visit shortly after the congress would “legitimize” Xi’s third term and be “too costly politically”.

Germany and France’s uncoordinated approach to China contrasts with Xi’s last visit to Europe in 2019 when he was hosted by Macron, who also invited former Chancellor Angela Merkel and former European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Paris to show European unity.

Macron refrained from directly criticizing a controversial Port of Hamburg deal with Chinese company Cosco, which Scholz is pushing ahead of his trip to Beijing. But last week the French president questioned the wisdom of letting China invest in “critical infrastructure” and warned that Europe had been “naïve” to Chinese purchases in the past “because we thought Europe was an open supermarket”.

Jean-Louis Thiériot, vice-president of the defense committee of the French National Assembly, said that Germany was increasingly focusing on defense in Eastern Europe at the expense of joint Franco-German projects . For example, Berlin signed an agreement with 13 NATO members, many of them on the Northern and Eastern European flank, to jointly acquire an anti-aircraft and anti-missile shield – much to the chagrin of France.

“The situation is unprecedented,” Thiériot said. “Tensions are escalating now and rapidly. In the past two months, Germany has decided to end work on the [Franco-German] Tiger helicopter, joint naval patrols dropped… And the signature of the air defense shield is a mortal blow [to the defense relationship],” he said.

Germany’s massive investment via a 100 billion euro military upgrade fund, as well as Scholz’s commitment to NATO’s goal of devoting 2% of GDP to defense spending, will increase likely put the annual defense budget at over €80 billion and mean that Berlin will be on track to top France’s €44 billion defense budget.

Medical certificate

Last week’s suspension of the joint Franco-German council of ministers was not by far the first clash between Berlin and Paris when it comes to high-level meetings.

In August, the question was whether Scholz and Macron would meet in Ludwigsburg on September 9 for the 60th anniversary of a famous speech by former French President Charles de Gaulle in the sumptuous city in southwestern Germany. But despite the highly symbolic nature of that ceremony, the leaders’ meeting never took place – with officials giving conflicting accounts of why it was, from naming disputes to alleged disagreements over who should take over. the costs.

Late last month, Paris felt snubbed by Berlin when Scholz failed to find time to speak to French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne: a meeting between the two leaders in Berlin had been canceled because the Chancellor had been tested positive for coronavirus. But several French officials told POLITICO that a videoconference afterwards was also called off, allegedly because the Germans told Borne’s office that Scholz felt too ill.

Paris was even more surprised – and annoyed – when Scholz then appeared the same day via video at a press conference, during which he did not appear as sick, but rather confidently announced his aid package. energy of 200 billion euros. The French say they were not even informed beforehand. A German spokesperson could not be reached for comment on the incident.

Yannick Bury, a center-right German opposition lawmaker who focuses on Franco-German relations, said Scholz should use his visit to Paris to start rebuilding ties with Macron. “It is important that France receives a clear signal that Germany has a great interest in a close and trusting exchange,” Bury said. “Trust has been shattered.”


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