Macron’s French EU presidency speech analysed by expert
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Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz have put on an affectionate display of unity since Angela Merkel, Mr Scholz’s predecessor, stepped down. Mr Macron referred to his German counterpart as “dear Olaf” and hailed their “convergence of views” after their first meeting as leaders in Paris at the end of 2021. This year, however, fresh challenges are facing the bloc.
Tuesday’s meeting is expected to focus primarily on Russia and the threat posed in Ukraine, as Western powers scramble to resolve tensions.
Mr Macron said the meeting in Berlin would discuss international security and other topics such as the online economy, climate change and Germany’s presidency of the G7 group of leading world nations.
But while the two leaders have sought to push any differences aside, Mr Macron is expected to use this as the first opportunity to put Mr Scholz through his paces.
Mr Macron, with nearly five years of leadership under his belt and many friends across the EU, is expected to tell Mr Scholz to be “pragmatic” in the face of new challenges.
The meeting comes as it emerged Mr Scholz turned down an invite at short notice from US President Joe Biden to discuss the Ukraine crisis, with local media reporting he wanted to show presence in the EU during this time.
German magazine Der Spiegel had reported that a trip to Madrid, many appointments and his desire to appear present in Germany due to developments in the coronavirus pandemic contributed to the decision.
The top Russian and US diplomats played down any prospect of resolving differences over Ukraine at talks on Friday.
But Washington will be hopeful that any outcome from the Macron-Scholz meeting could reduce tensions over the Russian troop build-up that has stoked fears of a new conflict.
Aside from the Russian situation, the German and French leaders can be expected to focus heavily on European economies in Tuesday’s meeting.
After the meeting of the two leaders in December, Mr Macron told Mr Scholz he needed to “invent” new financial solutions for the EU, focusing on economic growth and strategic sovereignty.
Both leaders vowed to use “flexibilities” under the EU’s debt rules to ensure sustained economic growth and finance the green transition.
But Mr Macron went one step further when he touched on the €800 billion coronavirus recovery fund, under which EU countries for the first time agreed to share limited common debt risk.
Mr Macron said: “We need the same capacity to innovate and invent appropriate solutions to accompany the coming period.”
His proposition is “not a question of pre-empting instruments or returning to the debates we have faced a lot about in recent years”, but about responding to the “new environment” the EU is facing, which includes “unprecedented economic and social conditions” following the pandemic.
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He also pointed to the need for investments into European sovereignty “that the geopolitical tensions impose on us”.
He added: “We need to find pragmatic ways and good agreements.”
Mr Scholz said: “I am confident that we will be able to solve the tasks that lie ahead of us jointly.
“After all, it’s about ensuring that we continue to enable and sustain the growth that we have set in motion with the recovery fund, and that we ensure sound finances at the same time.
“It is possible to achieve both at the same time, and not a contradiction.
He also referred to “flexibilities” under EU debt rules, saying “that is what — as far as I understand — also unites us. And to that extent, we will succeed in arriving at common concepts.”
Broadly, Mr Scholz said, both leaders had “a friendly” discussion over lunch in the Élysée Palace. “It’s about how we can make Europe strong … it’s important that we act in the same direction.”
Mr Macron recalled that he had worked very closely with former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, not just on European integration but foreign policy issues such as China or resolving the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
He said: “I know that together, dear Olaf, we will continue this close cooperation.”
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