French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to Paris for an inaugural working meeting on Friday, when the two most powerful EU leaders will begin the search for common ground to tackle crises within the bloc and beyond.
Heading the agenda, French officials say, will be tensions over Ukraine, which U.S. officials believe could face a Russian invasion early next year, and Macron’s priorities for France’s six-month European Union presidency, which starts on Jan. 1
Macron developed a friendly relationship with Scholz’s long-time predecessor Angela Merkel, who broke with German tradition by backing unprecedented joint debt-raising efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the two leaders were also at odds over some key issues including Germany’s gas imports from Russia – which denies it plans to invade Ukraine – how to defend Europe and its relationship with other big competitors including China.
Other EU countries have also worked to forge mini-alliances – such as the Frugal Four of fiscally conservative western nations or the Visegrad four in eastern Europe – in part to redress perceived imbalances stemming from Franco-German co-ordination efforts.
“It’s good when we have a Franco-German couple that gets on well... but it’s never enough,” Marion Gaillard, an expert on French-German relations at political studies institute Sciences-Po in Paris said.
French diplomats appear optimistic over the outlook for ties with Germany under Scholz, citing the “strategic sovereignty” in the coalition deal that took him to power that they say echoes Macron’s push for European “strategic autonomy.”
Another key issue is how to finance a transition towards greener energy and whether nuclear energy and natural gas can be considered by the EU as renewable – and hence subsidizable – sources.
Macron wants to build new nuclear reactors in France, while German plans to phase them out are well established. However, the new German coalition agreement makes no mention of the issue, leaving room for compromise, Paris believes.
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