Cold wave in Afghanistan: at least 70 dead
PARIS: Birthday in vain? After months of hesitation, Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz were challenged to relaunch the French-German tandem on Sunday in Paris, to mark the 60th anniversary of the Reconciliation Agreement between the two countries.
The celebrations promised to be quite formal with a ceremony at the Sorbonne in the morning followed by a Franco-German council of ministers at the Elysée, the same which had been postponed in late October against the backdrop of bilateral spats.
Paris and Berlin, however, refuse to dramatize the “crisis” in a pair often touted as a model of reconciliation and a boost for European development.
“French ministers talk all the time with their German counterparts. Nothing really divisive, sorry, it’s a happy story”, French Minister for European Affairs, Laurence Boone assures.
Will the speeches on Sunday surpass the symbolism and solemnity inherent in such an occasion? “We don’t want to announce things in all directions but solid things”, stressed the minister, without saying further.
“Youth will be at the heart of this day of sharing, it is with them that the future is being prepared”, promised the President of the National Assembly, Yaëlle Braun-Pivet, who will also speak with her partner Bärbel Bas.
Regarding the price of gas, nuclear power, Future Air Combat Systems (SCAF) or European missile defense – for which Berlin is advocating for a solution that is competitive with Paris – the dispute has accumulated since Olaf Scholz succeeded Angela Merkel in December 2021.
On December 1, French company Dassault Aviation confirmed SCAF’s progress, but much is still unknown about the future of this project, which is both ambitious and costly, in which the two countries’ manufacturers constantly face each other. .
More pervasive, a scent of incomprehension drifted between the Elysée and the chancellery, each distracted by initiatives taken by the other without prior consultation.
The latest incident to date, Emmanuel Macron announcing the delivery of light battle tanks to Ukraine on January 4, without warning, put Berlin and Washington out of trouble with the same announcement the next day.
“Why is the French president in such a hurry?”, annoyed Lars Klingbeil, leader of the Chancellor’s Social Democrats (SPD) Party, judging that the signal being sent “would have been stronger had all three announced at the same time”.
The two leaders also display opposite temperaments, which complicates this special relationship where personal ties often make all the difference.
“To Germans, Macron is as French as they imagine him to be, he talks a lot, loves his verbs,” said Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, diplomatic adviser to Jacques Chirac and a former French ambassador to Berlin.
“Scholz is at first glance a cold person, as if it hurts him to speak, he thinks three times before he acts”, added Joachim Bitterlich, adviser to Chancellor Helmut Kohl from 1987 to 1998.
Difficulties also relate to the interests at stake for the two countries, whose contradictions have become more stark since the start of the war in Ukraine.
“Structural issues go deeper than the personal relationship between the president and the chancellor,” notes Jacob Ross, an expert at Germany’s DGAP institute.
“The Germans are sincere Europeans. They know very well that their future lies in Europe. But they defend national interests”, especially industrial interests, summarized former President François Hollande.
For a presidential majority leader, “Olaf Scholz was more ‘Germany first’ and his economic model was doomed” with cheap Russian gas ending and the Chinese market at half-mast.
But as with every French-German tandem, time must be given. “As always, from different positions the Franco-German political will made it possible to move forward”, noted Mr Gourdault-Montagne.