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Macron hails new German Chancellor Scholz as Europe’s new power couple meets

French President Emmanuel Macron hailed a "convergence of views" with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday as the two men met for their first talks as leaders.

France's Emmanuel Macron and Germany's Olaf Scholz meet in Paris on Friday.
France's Emmanuel Macron and Germany's Olaf Scholz meet in Paris on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP | Thibault Camus

Macron and Scholz, both pro-EU centrists, are the new tandem in charge of Europe’s biggest economies that have the greatest influence inside the 27-member European Union.

Scholz, a Social Democrat, heads a new coalition whose commitment to strengthening Europe’s “strategic sovereignty” has raised hopes of progress in the fervently pro-EU French government.

Addressing Scholz as “dear Olaf” and using the informal “tu” pronoun in French, Macron said he had seen “a convergence of views, a desire to have our countries work together, and a firm and determined belief in Europe, which I knew already, which we will need in the months and years ahead.”

The visit was “a very important moment to build solid foundations for cooperation between our countries,” he added at a news conference.

Scholz made Paris his first overseas stop after taking over on Wednesday from Angela Merkel at the end of her 16 years in power.

He said the talks focused on “making Europe strong and European sovereignty.”

“What is important there is that we work together,” he said.

Scholz will continue on to Brussels on Friday for talks with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and EU chief Ursula von der Leyen on Friday, as well as European Council president Charles Michel ahead of a bloc summit next week.

New agenda

Macron laid out an ambitious agenda Thursday for a “Europe that is powerful in the world” during France’s time as the rotating president of the 27 member Council of the European Union in the first half of next year.

The 43-year-old wants to make further progress towards building up European defence capabilities and border forces, as well as devising ways of financing huge public investments in strategic industries considered vital for EU sovereignty.

Analysts say Macron’s desire for more flexible budget rules in the EU, enabling governments to run larger deficits, could run into opposition from a Germany that has historically insisted on financial rigour.

Scholz said there was “not a contradiction” between wanting to finance ambitious investments to ensure growth, and solid public finances.

“For me, they are two sides of the same coin,” said Scholz, who was previously German finance minister and helped push through a historic EU fund for a Covid recovery last year that saw the bloc raise money collectively for the first time.

The 63-year-old has long backed Germany’s trademark budget austerity goals, but he threw his weight behind the EU recovery fund to help Europe cope with the pandemic – going further than Merkel.

READ ALSO: Five challenges facing Germany’s new government

Russian tensions 

As well as discussing the European Union, the two leaders also talked about the Russian troop buildup on Ukraine’s border, as well as relations with China and the African continent.

“All must accept that borders in Europe cannot be changed. This rule is for everyone,” Scholz said in reference to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who has been accused by the US of planning an invasion of its neighbour.

Scholz and Putin
Olaf Scholz sits alongside former Chancellor Merkel at a meeting with Vladimir Putin during the G20 Summit in 2019. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd von Jutrczenka

Scholz had warned Moscow on Thursday of “consequences” for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a Russian project to deliver natural gas to Germany and a major source of friction with many partners, including France.

As Western powers threaten punishing new sanctions against Moscow, the project could soon play a central role.

“With Nord Stream 2, Germany has the big geopolitical weapon in its hand without ever having sought it,” said Ulrich Speck, an analyst at the German Marshall Fund.

READ ALSO: Merkel: Russia and Germany should talk despite ‘deep differences’

Defence

Macron was expected to press Scholz behind closed doors on his desire to see Germany play a more active role in global security affairs.

The German coalition’s pact makes no mention of the pledge for all NATO member states to commit two percent of their gross domestic product to defence by 2024.

French Foreign Minister Yves Le Drian also asked Thursday for stronger German support in foreign missions, including operations against jihadist groups in the Sahel region of western Africa, saying Berlin had “an important role to play”.

Political scientist Andrea Roemmele of the Hertie School of Governance expects closer cooperation with Paris on security policy under Scholz.

But with the French presidential elections looming next year, Berlin will likely “take a wait-and-see stance” on projects, particularly given the threat of a strong showing by the far right.

By Adam PLOWRIGHT with Deborah COLE in Berlin

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POLITICS

Germany’s Scholz to meet Brazil’s Lula on Latin American tour

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz begins a Latin American tour on Saturday, during which he will become the first Western leader to meet Brazilian President Lula since the latter's inauguration.

Germany's Scholz to meet Brazil's Lula on Latin American tour

Accompanied by a delegation of business leaders, Scholz will visit Argentina, then Chile, before heading to Brazil, Latin America’s biggest economy.

All three countries are rich in natural resources and “very interesting partners” for Europe’s top economy, a government source in Berlin said.

The visit comes as German business seeks new opportunities overseas following the economic shock caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and as concerns grow about a heavy reliance on China.

Scholz will meet Argentine President Alberto Fernandez when he arrives in Buenos Aires on Saturday.

But the Brazilian leg of the trip will be most closely watched.

Germany, and more broadly the European Union, are seeking to reset relations now that Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is in power, following the divisive administration of far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro.

EU-Mercosur deal

One key topic of discussion will be a trade deal between the EU and trade bloc Mercosur, which includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Although a deal was reached in 2019 following 20 years of talks, it has not yet been ratified, and has faced a wave of criticism in Europe, particularly among the agriculture and ecological sectors.

This week however, Lula signalled a renewed focus on finalising the accord, saying it was “urgent and extremely important” to reach agreement.

Ahead of the trip, Germany’s powerful machine tool makers’ federation called for the deal “to finally be implemented after years of going nowhere”.

“Time is pressing,” it said.

Germany will also be trying to ensure it does not lose ground to China, which is increasingly becoming a trade rival for European powers and the United States in Latin America.

Protecting forests

The environment will be high on the agenda when Scholz visits Brazil. After Lula’s election victory in October, Berlin said it was ready to resume payments to a fund that aims to protect the Amazon rainforest.

Germany, along with the fund’s biggest donor Norway, had halted payments after deforestation surged under climate-sceptic Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro’s administration caused “a rupture in Brazilian environmental policy and closed the doors of environmental diplomacy”, said Roberto Goulart Menezes, of the institute of international relations at the University of Brasilia. “Lula’s government, on the contrary, is resuming this agenda and placing it among its priorities.”

As Russia’s war against Ukraine grinds on, Germany will seek to use the Latin American tour to drum up further international support against Moscow, the Berlin government source said.

Argentina, Chile and Brazil have criticised the invasion of Ukraine at the United Nations but have not adopted sanctions against Moscow.

Lula caused shock last year when he said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was “as responsible as” Russian President Vladimir Putin for the conflict.

“We will underline that the contours of peace are relatively simple — that Russia leaves a territory where it has no business,” the German source said.

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