French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Olaf Scholz sought to put tensions behind them during a three-hour meeting at which they discussed energy, defence and the geopolitical challenges raised by the war in Ukraine.
Both sides described the meeting in Paris on Wednesday in upbeat terms, although there were no breakthroughs on policy issues or specific announcements.
“We had a very good exchange,” said Macron in an evening interview on France 2 television.
The meeting was hastily thrown together to replace a broader cabinet-wide summit that had been planned to take place in Fontainebleau near Paris but which was postponed because of the lack of progress on key areas.
Paris and Berlin have been clashing in recent months over everything from fighter jets and air defence systems to gas pipelines — and disagreements over how to address the energy crisis were on display at a recent summit in Brussels. That sparked concerns that the Franco-German alliance was fraying and thus delaying decision-making at a key time for the European Union as it tries to maintain unity during war in Ukraine.
Europe’s two biggest economies have traditionally been the motor behind key decisions and crisis management for the EU, such as when they agreed to raise a massive chunk of joint debt during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Scholz tweeted a photo of himself and Macron on the steps of the Elysée Palace. “That was a very good and important conversation today — on energy supply to Europe, rising prices and joint weapons projects. Germany and France stand closely together and address the challenges we face together,” the chancellor wrote.
Calling the exchange “cordial and constructive”, the Elysée said Macron and Scholz had agreed to create working groups to advance discussions on defence, energy and innovation with a view to holding a joint summit in January.
A German official said the two leaders dealt with “short-term issues, such as energy and energy prices, as well as medium-term ones”. They added that the “positive atmosphere and conversation stood in stark contrast to the reporting we’ve seen in recent days”, alluding to the press coverage on the breakdown in the relationship between Paris and Berlin.
Defence co-operation was also discussed, including two flagship projects aimed at boosting European military capabilities: the Future Combat Air System jet and a jointly produced tank known as the Main Ground Combat System. First announced in 2017, neither project has advanced far to date.
Paris has been concerned about Berlin’s choices on military procurement because it has opted to spend some of its newly created €100bn investment fund to modernise its armed forces on US-made weapons systems and fighter jets. Macron has long advocated Europe’s developing “strategic autonomy” to wean itself off of reliance on the US and Nato for its military needs.
But that idea has been undercut by the immediate challenges raised by the war in Ukraine. Germany and other eastern European countries are more inclined to see the US as a main supplier of arms and weapons.
To that end, Berlin recently announced a new air defence platform — the European Sky Shield Initiative — designed to close gaps in Nato’s protection of Europe’s air space. Fourteen countries, mostly in eastern Europe, have signed up, and it is expected that they would rely on US and Israeli-made systems.
France and Italy were not among the signatories, although they have their own air and missile defence system, known as SAMP-T. Asked if France could join the European Sky Shield Initiative, an Elysée official said that would be a subject of future negotiation.