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UKRAINE

France, Germany firm up ties as European ‘driving force’

Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz and France's President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday pledged to drive Europe forward together, as the German leader visited Paris to celebrate 60 years of post-war cooperation despite recent strains.

France, Germany firm up ties as European 'driving force'
France's President Emmanuel Macron (R) shakes hands with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (L) during a ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Elysee Treaty. Photo: Christophe Ena/ POOL/AFP

The historic partnership has been under pressure from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and broader tectonic shifts.

But in a speech at the capital’s Sorbonne University, Scholz said upholding strong ties was key for the continent.

“The future, like the past, rests on cooperation between both our countries as the driving force of a united Europe,” he said.

Macron said that “Germany and France, because they cleared the path to reconciliation, must become pioneers to relaunch Europe”.

He cited the need to “build a new energy model”, encourage “innovation and the technologies of tomorrow”, and ensure the European Union is “a geopolitical power in its own right, in defence, space and diplomacy”.

The two leaders were then to take part in a joint cabinet meeting. The personal relationship between both men has been less than warm since Scholz assumed office in late 2021.

But “there are structural problems that go further than the personal relationship”, said Jacob Ross, a researcher at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) in Berlin.

The frictions are even felt by the public, with 36 percent of French respondents and 39 percent of Germans telling pollster Ipsos this week that relations were suffering.

Support for Ukraine

The 1963 Elysee Treaty signed between post-World War II leaders Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle provided for everything from military cooperation to youth exchanges.

Since then, France and Germany have often built the foundation for joint crisis response in Europe, and other nations are looking to them again now.

Top issues to address include the Ukraine conflict, climate and energy, and European competitiveness faced with a new wave of “buy-American” subsidies in the United States.

Scholz on Sunday pledged continued support to Kyiv after Russia invaded its pro-Western neighbour almost 11 months ago.

“We will continue to provide Ukraine with all the support it needs for as long as necessary. Together, as Europeans, to defend our European peace project,” he said.

But Germany is still undecided on whether to deliver — or allow allies to deliver — its Leopard 2 battle tanks to Kyiv.

READ ALSO: Poland slams ‘unacceptable’ German stance on Leopard tanks

The impression that “there is a united coalition, and that Germany is standing in the way is wrong”, newly installed Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said Friday.

France has been pressing Germany to move faster, dashing ahead on mobile artillery in April and light tanks this month.

Elsewhere, moves to jointly develop next-generation fighter jets and tanks are dragging, while France is absent from a 14-nation Sky Shield anti-missile initiative led by Germany.

Ross suggested that part of the problem lies in France’s clinging to a historic self-image as a sovereign, nuclear-armed power with a seat on the UN Security Council — in contrast to a Germany happy to leave defence questions primarily to the US in recent decades.

There are early signs of change on both sides, with France re-energising its NATO role since the Ukraine invasion and Germany’s 100-billion ($108 billion) revamp of its armed forces.

‘Put to the test’

Away from defence, interlinked trade and energy conundrums are hitting both France and Germany.

For Berlin, “things have got very complicated because Germany’s economic and political model is being put to the test,” said Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, a former French ambassador to Berlin.

Without cheap Russian gas or nuclear power, Berlin has been forced to turn back in part to coal as renewables still cannot yet make up the difference.

France, by contrast, is scrambling to repair and replace its ageing nuclear reactor fleet.

Some in Berlin now fear China will follow Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by making a grab for Taiwan — which it sees as a breakaway province — potentially severing Germany from a vital market.

And leaders across Europe fear distortions in transatlantic trade from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which will pour billions of dollars into American-made, climate-friendly technologie.

Macron is expected to push Scholz Sunday to join a joint response, after securing backing from Spanish leader Pedro Sánchez this week.

For France and Germany in particular, there are also fundamentals that must be tended to preserve the relationship into the future.

The relationship has become less real” for ordinary French and Germans, said Gourdault-Montagne, and “lost some of its emotion”.

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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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