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Macron heads to Germany in first French presidential state visit in 24 years

May 26, 2024 4:18 PM IST

NATO | Germany | Olaf Scholz | EU | Emanuel Macron | Frank-Walter Steinmeier

French President Emanuel Macron lands in Germany on Sunday for a three-day state visit followed by a bilateral cabinet meeting as the European Union’s two biggest powers seek to show unity ahead of next month’s EU parliamentary elections.

Macron’s trip to the capital Berlin, Dresden in the east and Muenster in the west is the first French presidential state visit to Germany in 24 years.

The visit will be watched as a checkup on the health of the German-French relationship that drives EU policymaking, at a time of major challenges for Europe: from the Ukraine war to the possible election of Donald Trump as U.S. president in November.

Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have very different leadership styles and have publicly clashed on issues from defence to nuclear energy since the latter took power in late 2021. However, they have reached compromises on various fronts of late, from fiscal reform to changes to power market subsidies, allowing the EU to strike deals, and put on a more united front.

“There are tensions in the German-French relationship but in part precisely because they have dealt with some difficult topics,” said Yann Wernert at the Jacques Delors Institute in Berlin, noting the two countries had also converged on the need to expand the EU eastwards.

The visit is “an attempt at the highest political level to demonstrate that the relationship is working,” said Mujtaba Rahman, managing director for Europe at the Eurasia Group think tank. “But there are still fundamental gaps on major questions that are looming over the EU.”

One key such gap is on European defence, in particular if Trump wins the Nov. 5 U.S. presidential election. Defence experts view him as a much less predictably reliable ally for Europe than his Democratic rival, President Joe Biden.

Earlier this year the Republican former president not only said he would not protect NATO members from a future attack by Russia if those countries’ contributions to the defence alliance were lagging, but that he would encourage Russia “to do whatever the hell they want.”

France, which has nuclear weapons, has pushed for a more self-reliant Europe on defence matters and has been aggrieved by Germany’s decision to buy mostly American gear for its European Sky Shield Initiative air defence umbrella.

Germany says there is no credible alternative to the U.S. military umbrella and that Europe does not have time to wait for a homegrown defence industry to be prepared for threats such as Russian hostility.

POMP AND BUSINESS

Macron, accompanied on his trip by his wife Brigitte, will start his visit on Sunday meeting in Berlin with the German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier before walking through the landmark Brandenburg Gate with the city’s mayor, Kai Wegner.

On Monday, he will head to Dresden, where he will make a speech in front of the Frauenkirche which was destroyed by Western allies during the Second World War, before heading on Tuesday to Muenster.

But perhaps the most significant part of his trip will be the cabinet meeting on Tuesday in Meseberg, just outside Berlin, where the two governments will then get down to business seeking to find common ground on the two main issues they have struggled to see eye-to-eye on, namely defence and competitiveness.

The two countries will also try to find common ground on the EU agenda for the next five years, in view of the expected strong showing for the far-right in the parliamentary elections on June 6-9, making EU decision-making more difficult.

Rahman said the EU would have a clear window to push forward with more ambitious plans — between the parliamentary elections and establishment of the new leadership, and next summer before the German elections. This would be especially important if Trump won the election, he said.

(Reuters)

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Last updated on: 19th June 2024