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Emmanuel Macron is heading for Germany with the wind — and a lot of ambition — in his sails.
After winning a second term as French President, Macron can claim to be the preeminent leader of the EU and to have given new impetus to his efforts to make Europe more powerful and independent.
But, as always with Europe, nothing will change unless Paris and Berlin pull in the same direction. So Macron’s first foreign visit since his re-election is, of course, a trip to Berlin for dinner with Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Monday.
The meeting with Scholz, who succeeded Angela Merkel as Chancellor in December, will take place just hours after Macron presented his renewed vision for the EU at a ceremony marking Europe Day in Strasbourg. His speech should address the always sensitive subject of the modification of the treaties which underpin the European Union.
The two leaders meet as Europe faces a daunting geopolitical landscape dominated by Russia’s war in Ukraine, but also shaped by an increasingly assertive China and uncertainty over the future political direction of the United States.
“At this very moment, when we are facing the greatest foreign policy challenge since 1945, the Franco-German engine has an incredible importance,” said Nicole Westig, chairwoman of the Franco-German parliamentary group in the Bundestag.
“If Europe wants to defend its values and its democracy, France and Germany must cooperate closely,” said Westig, an MP from the Free Liberal Democrats, one of the three parties in Scholz’s government coalition.
Drawing on conversations with officials, lawmakers and analysts in France and Germany, POLITICO has pulled together items likely to be on Macron’s to-do list in Berlin – and examined the challenges he faces. to do them.
1. Learn to love Olaf
Macron and Scholz are no strangers to each other, but neither are they best friends. Macron has known Scholz, a social democrat, from his time as German finance minister, when he worked closely with Paris on the landmark EU debt-financed coronavirus recovery fund. But the French leader has yet to build the same close working relationship he developed with Merkel.
“Both leaders are already quite experienced in the office and know each other,” said Stefan Seidendorf, deputy director of the Franco-German Institute, a nonprofit research organization.
“There is not that moment of Franco-German fright when a new president or chancellor arrives and you first have to accept the reality that neither France nor Germany can lead Europe alone,” said he added.
But a French official admitted that the couple “still needed to get to know each other”. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official used the word “to approve” – which often references the taming of animals – to describe what needs to happen next, indicating that Paris sees room for improvement in the personal relationship.
An official from Macron’s political party – recently renamed Renaissance – said the relationship needed to be ‘tested over time’ and observed that ‘Macron has now gained seniority and experience’ by attending numerous meetings of the European Council, where Scholz is still a beginner.
2. Mount a (polite) offense on defense
Germany’s recent decision to buy American F-35 fighter jets to replace its aging Tornados has annoyed some French officials as Paris pushes for Europe to become more self-sufficient in defense (including the important French defense industry should benefit).
“We sometimes have the feeling that Germany is closer to NATO and more American than European”, deplores a former adviser to the French government, who regrets that Berlin did not turn to the Rafale twin-engine fighter plane. French.
German officials said the decision to buy the F-35 reflected the need to replace a fleet of bombers capable of carrying US nuclear bombs in the event of a direct conflict with Russia under a long-standing agreement with Washington. The United States would only have authorized the use of French jets for this purpose if Paris revealed to Washington crucial technical details about its fighters, which is considered highly unlikely, according to German officials.
A key question is whether Paris and Berlin can find a way to boost cooperation on their joint combat aircraft project, the Future Combat Air System (FCAS), which quite literally has yet to get off the ground. Scholz said earlier this year that he remains committed to FCAS despite the decision to purchase the F-35, but moving the project forward will take more than words.
3. Get the Germans to relax on the money
Macron – along with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and a number of other European leaders – is pushing for a relaxation of the EU’s fiscal rulebook, the Stability and Growth Pact, to allow exemptions for more defense spending and climate action. Paris has also floated the idea of creating a new financial vehicle, similar to the coronavirus recovery fund, to finance these investments and cushion the impact of soaring energy prices.
However, Scholz’s government has so far rejected such demands, arguing that the EU should first make full use of the existing recovery fund.
Seidendorf, of the Franco-German Institute, said Paris and Berlin had worked well together to create this landmark fund, but now risked offering an unambitious compromise on future finances that might work for both in the short term but would not. would not further develop the EU. .
4. Connect on energy and climate
Both leaders are committed to the twin goals of radically reducing carbon emissions and weaning Europe from Russian energy. But Macron will want to avoid the haughtiness displayed by some French officials when they say their strategy of sticking to nuclear power has now been doubly justified because it serves them well for both purposes. Germany, meanwhile, is sticking to its decision of a decade ago to phase out atomic power, which has increased its dependence on Russian gas.
On the climate, it is perhaps Scholz who takes the initiative rather than Macron. Berlin is keen for France to advance legislation that constitutes the EU’s Fit For 55 climate package before Paris completes its term as EU Council president at the end of June. The German government – which includes the Greens – fears that the Czech Republic, the next country in the presidency, will lack the political muscle and determination to push the package forward.
French officials insist that Berlin can count on Paris. “The big priority at the end of the French presidency is Fit For 55 in its entirety and we intend to speed up the work,” said one. “We have no intention of braking.”
5. Talk about the neighbors
The contentious question of whether and when to welcome new members to the EU has moved onto the agenda, thanks to Ukraine’s request to be fast-tracked into the bloc.
While Paris and Berlin were cautious about Ukraine’s bid for formal candidate status at a summit of EU leaders in June, they have long held starkly different views on the prospect. other countries to join the club. Berlin pushed to open the door to Western Balkan countries while Paris was much cooler on the idea.
The big question for Berlin is whether Macron is ready to rethink his views and come up with something new, as some believe.
“It has become clear to the French side that the absence of a neighborhood and EU enlargement policy has now become intolerable in the face of the Ukrainian crisis,” Seidendorf said. “Some form of membership perspective must be created in order to avoid a no man’s land between Russia and the EU.”
A French official said the issue of EU enlargement deserved “thorough reflection”, but also reaffirmed a position that France has held for years – that any EU enlargement must go hand in hand with broader bloc reform. This could involve removing the unanimity requirement for votes in certain areas such as foreign policy. “The day we turn 35 [EU member countries]we have to invent something new, a new decision-making mechanism,” the official said.
Scholz recently issued a similar note, telling reporters that the EU “must push forward with institutional reforms to prepare us for enlargement.”
6. Let’s at least change the treaties!
Expect Macron to push for a debate on EU treaty changes in Strasbourg and Berlin.
The Conference on the Future of Europe, a brainchild of Macron, will conclude its work on Monday, with the final presentation of hundreds of proposals made by EU citizens to reform the way Europe works, including changing the treaties. These proposals led MEPs to adopt a resolution last week which “calls for the convening of a Convention by activating the procedure for revising the treaties”.
On Monday, Macron will insist that the treaty change is “neither a totem nor a taboo” and will raise the issue with Scholz in Berlin, according to an Elysee official. On the one hand, the official noted, the EU has already been able to undertake major reforms favored by Macron without changing the treaties. However, other reshuffles backed by Macron would require treaty change, such as giving the European Parliament the right to initiate legislation and revising the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights to include the right to abortion, the President said. responsible for the Elysée.