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France, Germany seek to relaunch ties despite Ukraine strains

24 January 2023

AFP  :

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday sought to underline the importance of their nations' postwar alliance, despite strains created by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
With pressure growing on Berlin to supply Ukraine with highly regarded German Leopard tanks, Scholz stopped short of any pledge, instead insisting all allies must work together.
But Macron, whose country is already sending light tanks to Ukraine, made clear "nothing is excluded" regarding the possible delivery of French-made Leclerc heavy tanks.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock however later made clear that Germany would not block Poland fron sending Leopard tanks from Polish stocks.
Scholz was visiting Paris to celebrate 60 years of postwar cooperation at a time when the Franco-German relationship, often described as the motor of Europe, has hit unusually turbulent waters.
In addition to reported French impatience with Germany's caution on Ukraine, differences on nuclear power, budget issues and a possible lack of personal chemistry between the two men have caused tensions.
But in a speech at the capital's Sorbonne University, Scholz said upholding strong ties was key for the continent.
"The future, like the past, rests on cooperation between both our countries as the driving force of a united Europe," he said.
Macron said that "Germany and France, because they cleared the path to reconciliation, must become pioneers to relaunch Europe.
"We are two souls in the same body," he added, describing the nations as the "locomotive of a united Europe".
Germany has so far resisted Ukrainian pleas for the Leopard 2 tanks, with reports suggesting it would only agree if the United States followed suit with a similar move.
Scholz said at a joint news conference that the country had always in the past acted "in close coordination with our friends and allies". He refused to be drawn on the request for the tanks.
"We fear that this war is going to last for a long time," he said. "We are only going to act in close coordination."
But Macron, who earlier this month agreed to send French-made AMX-10 RC light tanks to Ukraine, indicated that France was by contrast considering sending the Leclerc heavy tanks to Ukraine.
"As for the Leclercs, I have asked the defence ministry to work on it. Nothing is excluded," he said.
He stressed that any effort to dispatch the hardware to help repel the Russian invasion should be decided and coordinated "collectively" with allies including Germany.
Macron said any joint decision on whether or not to send heavy tanks depended on three criteria -- that it not "escalate" the conflict; that it provide "real and effective support" to Kyiv's forces including in view of how long it would take to train Ukrainians to use them; and that it "not weaken our own defence capabilities".
Poland has announced it is ready to deliver 14 Leopard tanks to Kyiv and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he was waiting for "a clear statement" from Berlin whether countries that have the Leopards can transfer them to Ukraine.
Baerbock, who represents the Greens in Social Democrat Scholz's ruling coalition, however told LCI TV: "If we are asked the question, then we will not stand in the way."
"We need to make sure people's lives are saved and Ukraine's territory liberated," she said.
The 1963 Elysee Treaty signed between post-World War II leaders Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle provided for everything from military cooperation to youth exchanges.
Since then, France and Germany have often built the foundation for joint crisis response in Europe, and other nations are looking to them again now.
"We will continue to provide Ukraine with all the support it needs for as long as necessary," Scholz said at the Sorbonne. "Together, as Europeans, to defend our European peace project."
But the two leaders made no secret that their positions remained very far apart on a European anti-missile shield project that Berlin wishes to carry out with existing Israeli and American technologies. France wants a European solution.
As well as the Ukraine conflict, top issues included climate and energy, and European competitiveness faced with a new wave of "buy-American" subsidies in the United States.
Leaders across Europe fear distortions in transatlantic trade from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which will pour billions of dollars into American-made, climate-friendly technologies.
After securing backing from Spanish leader Pedro Sanchez this week, Macron said France and Germany had agreed a "common line" on an "ambitious and rapid" European response to the American subsidies.

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