French, German leaders to meet in Paris to discuss diverging policy stances

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French, German leaders to meet in Paris to discuss diverging policy stances



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French President Emmanuel Macron is scheduled to meet with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Paris on Wednesday, amid divergences between the two neighbors and key European Union allies over EU strategy, defense and economic policies. 

Macron and Scholz will have a working lunch at the Elysee presidential palace, during which they will discuss the situation in Ukraine.

Initially, a FrenchGerman joint Cabinet meeting was scheduled for the day, but it was postponed until January. The governments in Paris and Berlin both said they still have work to do to reach consensus on some bilateral issues.

French-German divergences are not unusual. The countries, home to the eurozone’s biggest economies, are used to having different stances on defense, energy and other topics.

“My wish has always been to preserve European unity and also the friendship and the alliance between France and Germany,” Macron said last week in Brussels before an EU meeting. “I think it’s not good for Germany nor for Europe that it isolates itself,” he added.

Asked Friday about the apparent tensions, Scholz said that cooperation with France is “very intensive” and stressed that he holds frequent meetings with Macron.

“There are questions on which we have common points of view and drive things forward,” he said. “You can see, for example, that it is Germany and France who repeatedly look at how we can achieve progress to support Ukraine.”

“There are also questions that we are discussing, that in some cases have been under debate for years and need to be pushed forward,” Scholz said.

French-German government meetings are usually held at least once a year to coordinate policies. The last one was held in May 2021 via videoconference due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Elysee downplayed the delay, citing scheduling problems because some ministers were not available, and key bilateral issues that needed “a little more time” to be discussed in order to reach “ambitious” agreements.

Scholz’s spokesman, Steffen Hebestreit, said last week that “there are a whole series of different topics that are currently occupying us. I don’t know whether there are snags but it’s not yet the case that we’ve reached a united stance.”

Berlin and Paris have a decades-long history of bilateral irritants and European disputes that coexist with the countries’ friendship and cooperation. 

France and Germany have been described as the “motor” of the EU. They have always found compromises even in difficult terrain since they co-founded, with four other countries, the forerunner of the EU in 1957. 

They will celebrate in January the 60th anniversary of the Elysee Treaty that set the tone for the two countries’ relations after centuries of fierce rivalry and bloody conflict.

Last week, as EU leaders were seeking a deal to make sure the runaway cost of gas doesn’t further tank struggling EU economies, Germany and France were in opposing camps — Berlin expressing doubts and holding off plans for a price cap, while most others wanted to push on.

Scholz said any dispute was on the method, not the goal.

Before that, France and other EU countries expressed criticism over the lack of coordination from Germany about its 200-billion-euro ($199 billion) subsidy plan to help households and businesses cope with high energy prices.

Defense also has been a recurrent issue, with Paris considering Berlin was not doing enough in the area for years — until the war in Ukraine led Germany to announce a major boost to military spending.

Earlier this month, fifteen countries agreed on German-led plans for an improved European air defense system, the so-called European Sky Shield Initiative.

France did not join the project. The French Mamba system is already part of NATO’s integrated air and missile defense. 

 (AP)

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