BERLIN/PARIS – Relations between Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Schulz, the two leaders of the two European Union economic powers, are now so cold that they don’t even dare see them together in front of the press.
The French president and German chancellor held a joint meeting in Paris on Wednesday, but there was no joint press conference in front of the cameras, usually the most routine diplomatic pleasantries after bilateral meetings. Berlin had previously announced that such a press appearance would be held. Then the Elysee Palace canceled it.
After the working lunch ended, officials on both sides – who did not want to be identified – argued that the meeting was a success.
“It was very constructive and very strategic,” said one of Macron’s advisers. “We’ve all had our noses up at the grindstone on energy, and today we’ve been able to raise the level of the conversation and discuss what we want to do in five or ten years.” According to a German official, the meeting was “absolutely successful.”
But the canceled press conference told its own story as a disdain for Schultz. He had traveled with a whole group of journalists to Paris, and from there he moved to Athens on a visit to another country. Refusing to hold a press conference for a visiting leader is a generally applied political tactic to draw a rebuke, as Schultz did recently when he was the Hungarian prime minister. Victor Urban visited Berlin.
“It is assumed that there has been a lack of communication and exchange between the new government teams of Schulz and Macron,” said Sandra Wieser of the liberal German Free Democratic Party, who sits on the board of directors of the Franco-German Parliamentary Assembly. “Therefore, we are certainly at the beginning of new political relations between people, for which trust must first be built.”
The row over a media show is just the latest episode in the deepening rift between the two biggest powers in the European Union.
In recent weeks, Schulze and Macron have clashed over how to tackle the energy crisis and how to overcome it Europe’s defenselessness The best approach to dealing with China.
Last week, those tensions spilled into the open when a Franco-German cabinet meeting was scheduled to take place in the French city of Fontainebleau. postponed to january Amid major disagreements over the text of a joint declaration, as well as conflicting holiday plans for some German ministers. The dispute between the two governments It was also widely visible At the European Union summit held last week in Brussels.
The war in Ukraine and the inflation and energy crisis strained European alliances, just when they needed them most. What had always been a vital alliance between Paris and Berlin seemed paradoxical at best.
French officials complain that Berlin does not treat them adequately as a close partner. For example, the French claim that they were not informed in advance about Germany’s domestic affairs Energy price relief package worth 200 billion euros — and make sure their counterparts in Berlin are aware of their frustration.
Chantal Kopf, a lawmaker from the Green Party, one of the three parties in Germany’s ruling coalition, and a board member of the Franco-German Parliamentary Assembly said.
“So far, this cooperation has always worked well in times of crisis – think, for example, of the recovery fund during the coronavirus crisis – and now the French also rightly want responses to the current energy crisis, or how to deal with China,” Kopf said.
Wieser reached a similar conclusion from the Free Democratic Party, another coalition partner in the Berlin government. “Paris is troubled by Germany’s decision alone on the brakes on gas prices and the lack of support for joint European defense technology projects,” she said. At the same time, the French government accused that it was, until recently, slowing down a new pipeline connecting the Iberian Peninsula and northern Europe.
Recently, the French government was incensed by the news that Schultz is planning this Visit Beijing next week To meet Xi Jinping in the first visit by a foreign leader since the Chinese president secured an unparalleled third term. Germany and China are also planning their own show when it comes to government consultations planned for January.
The thinking at the Elysee is that it would have been better if Macron and Schulze had visited China together – preferably soon after the Chinese Communist Party congress where Xi was given another mandate. According to a French official, a visit soon after the conference would “legitimize” Xi’s third term and would be “very expensive politically”.
Germany and France’s uncoordinated approach to China contrasts with Xi’s recent visit to Europe in 2019 when he was welcomed by Macron, who also invited former Chancellor Angela Merkel and former European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker to Paris to show European unity.
Macron refrained from direct criticism The controversial Hamburg port deal With the Chinese company Cosco, which Schulze pays before his trip to Beijing. But the French president last week questioned the wisdom of allowing China to invest in “basic infrastructure” and warned that Europe had been “naive” toward Chinese purchases in the past “because we thought Europe was an open supermarket”.
Jean-Louis Terriot, deputy chair of the defense committee of the French National Assembly, said that Germany was increasingly focusing on defense in Eastern Europe at the expense of joint German-French projects. For example, Berlin signed a deal with 13 NATO members, many in Northern and Eastern Europe, to jointly acquire an air and missile defense shield – What upsets France?.
“The situation is unprecedented,” Terriott said. Tensions are now worsening rapidly. In the past two months, Germany has decided to terminate the work in [Franco-German] Tiger helicopter drops joint naval patrols.. and air defense shield is signed a fatal blow [to the defense relationship],” He said.
The massive German investment through a €100 billion military upgrade fund, as well as Schulz’s commitment to the NATO target of 2% of GDP for defense spending, is likely to raise the annual defense budget to well over €80 billion, meaning that Berlin You will be on the right track. France’s defense budget of 44 billion euros.
The suspension of the French-German joint ministerial meeting last week was not the first clash between Berlin and Paris when it comes to high-level meetings.
Back in August, the question was whether Schulz and Macron would meet in Ludwigsburg on September 9 to celebrate their 60th anniversary. famous speech by former French President Charles de Gaulle in a posh town in southwestern Germany. But despite the highly symbolic nature of that ceremony, the leaders’ meeting never took place — officials gave conflicting accounts of why, from appointment conflicts to alleged disagreements over who should bear the costs.
Late last month, Paris felt disparaged when Schulz did not find time to speak to French Prime Minister Elisabeth Born: a meeting between the two leaders in Berlin was canceled because the chancellor tested positive for the coronavirus. But several French officials told Politico that a video conference that had been arranged later was canceled, claiming that the Germans had informed Bourne’s office that Schultz felt ill.
Paris was even more surprised and alarmed when Schulz appeared on the same day via video conference at a press conference, in which he did not appear to be very ill, but confidently announced a €200 billion energy relief package. The French say they were not informed of the matter in advance. A German spokesman declined to comment.
Yannick Puri, a center-right German opposition MP who focuses on Franco-German relations, said Schulz should start rebuilding relations with Macron. “It is important that France receive a clear signal that Germany has a great interest in a close and reliable exchange,” Berry said. Trust is shattered.
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