BERLIN/PARIS – Relations between EU economic powerhouse Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz are now so strained that they don’t even dare to appear together in front of the press.
The French president and German chancellor spoke to each other in Paris on Wednesday but did not hold a joint press conference in front of cameras, the driest diplomatic courtesy since the two sides met. Berlin had previously announced that it would hold such a press conference. The Elysée later denied it.
After the working lunch, officials from both sides, who did not want to be named, said the meeting was a success.
“It was very creative, very strategic,” said one of Macron’s advisers. “We’ve all had our noses in the face of energy, and today we were able to expand the conversation and talk about what we want to do in five or ten years.” A German official said the meeting was “completely successful”.
But the canceled press conference told Scholz crudely his own story. He went to Paris with his press entourage, and from there he went on another state visit to Athens. Refusing to hold press conferences for visiting leaders, as Scholz recently did when Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán visited Berlin, is a political tactic generally used to deliver reprimands.
Sandra Wieser, a member of the governing board of the Franco-German parliamentary assembly and a member of the liberal Free Democratic Party of Germany, said: “There has been a lack of communication and exchange between the new government teams of Scholz and Macron so far.” “So we are certainly at the beginning of a new political relationship between people, where trust must first be built.”
The media showdown is the latest in a deepening rift between the EU’s two superpowers.
In recent weeks, Scholz and Macron have sparred over how to deal with the energy crisis, how to deal with Europe’s weak defenses and how best to deal with China.
These tensions were made public last week when a planned Franco-German cabinet meeting in Fontainebleau, France, was postponed in January due to major disagreements over the text of a joint declaration and conflicting vacation plans for some German ministers. Disagreements between the two governments were also evident at last week’s EU summit in Brussels.
The war in Ukraine, inflation and the energy crisis have strained the European Union when it most needed it. What had always been a vital connection between Paris and Berlin seemed incongruous at best.
French authorities complain that Berlin does not see them as close partners. The French, for example, said they had not been briefed on Germany’s €200 billion domestic energy price relief package in advance, making sure their counterparts in Berlin were aware of their frustration.
Chantal Kopf, a lawmaker and member of the board of the Green Party, one of the three parties in Germany’s ruling coalition, said: “During the talks with members of the French parliament, it became clear that the people of Paris want closer ties with Germany.” Franco-German Parliamentary Assembly.
“So far, this cooperation has always worked well in times of crisis – for example, think of the recovery fund during the coronavirus crisis – and now the French feel that it is right to respond to the current energy crisis or how to deal with China. , should be closely coordinated” Kopf said.
A similar conclusion is drawn by Weiser of the FDP, another coalition partner in Berlin’s government. “The fact that the Germans are single-handedly holding down gas prices and not supporting joint European defense technology projects is upsetting Paris,” he said. At the same time, he accused the French government of delaying the construction of a new pipeline connecting the Iberian Peninsula and Northern Europe until recently.
Most recently, the French government was upset by reports that Scholz plans to visit Beijing next week to meet with Xi Jinping, the first visit by a foreign leader since the Chinese president’s third impeachment. Germany and China are planning their own shows when it comes to government consultations scheduled for January.
Elysée thinks that if Macron and Scholz visit China together, it would be better to go immediately after the Chinese Communist Party Congress, where Xi Jinping has another mandate. A visit so soon after the congress would “legitimize” Xi’s third term and be “too politically costly,” according to a French official.
Germany and France’s uncoordinated approach to China contrasts with Xi’s last visit to Europe in 2019, when Macron welcomed him and invited former Chancellor Angela Merkel and former European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to Paris in a show of European unity.
Macron has refused to directly criticize the controversial Hamburg port deal with China’s Cosco, which Scholz is pressing ahead of his visit to Beijing. But the French president last week questioned the wisdom of allowing China to invest in “critical infrastructure” and warned Europe was “naïve” to Chinese purchases in the past “because we think of Europe as an open supermarket”.
Jean-Louis Thieriot, vice-president of the defense committee of the French National Assembly, said that Germany is paying more and more attention to the defense of Eastern Europe at the expense of joint projects between Germany and France. For example, Berlin signed an agreement with 13 NATO members, most of them located on the Northern and Eastern European flanks, to acquire joint air and missile defenses, much to the chagrin of France.
“The situation is unprecedented,” Thieriot said. “Now the tension is getting worse. In the last two months, Germany decided to finish the job [Franco-German] Joint patrols of Tiger helicopters and dismounted marines … And the signature of anti-aircraft defenses is a lethal strike [to the defense relationship],” he said.
Scholz’s commitment to Germany’s massive investment through a €100bn military modernization fund, as well as NATO’s target of spending 2% of GDP on defence, is likely to raise the annual defense budget to over €80bn, and Berlin means that it will move in this direction. Exceeding the French defense budget by 44 billion euros.
Last week’s suspension of a joint Franco-German cabinet meeting was not the first clash between Berlin and Paris at high-level meetings.
The question has been raised whether Scholz and Macron will meet in Ludwigsburg on September 9, the 60th anniversary of former French president Charles de Gaulle’s famous speech in southwestern Germany in August. But while the ceremony was highly symbolic, the leaders’ meeting never took place — officials have offered conflicting accounts of why, from appointment irregularities to misunderstandings over who would cover expenses.
At the end of last month, Paris seemed to resent Berlin when Scholz did not have time to speak with French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne: a meeting between the two leaders in Berlin was canceled after the chancellor tested positive for the coronavirus. But several French officials told POLITICO that the Germans told Borne’s office that Scholz was too sick, so a video conference later was canceled.
Paris was even more surprised and upset when Scholz appeared in a videotaped press conference later that day, confidently announcing a €200bn energy bailout even though he wasn’t particularly ill. The French say they were not given advance notice. A German spokesman declined to comment.
Yannick Buri, a lawmaker from Germany’s center-right opposition party focused on Franco-German relations, said Scholz should begin to restore relations with Macron. “It is important that France receives a clear signal that Germany is interested in close and trusting exchanges.” Bury said. “Trust is broken.”