France and Germany have pledged this Sunday to increase military aid to Ukraine for as long as necessary, but stressed that the shipment of Western-made tanks is subject to an agreement with the United States and its allies. French President Emmanuel Macron announced at a press conference in Paris together with Chancellor Scholz that he “does not rule out” handing over powerful Leclerc tanks to the Ukrainian army. Scholz avoided mentioning the German Leopard tanks, kyiv’s main requirement, but explained: “Ukraine must know that we are not going to lower our guard. We will continue to help.”
One of the conditions that both Macron and Scholz set for sending the tanks was that it be done “in close consultation” with the allies. “We must do a job in the days and weeks ahead,” said the French president. Germany wants to avoid taking the decision on the Leopards alone, which Ukraine needs to fight the Russian invasion at this stage of the war. If France joined this initiative with its Leclercs, it could make it easier for Berlin, under increasing pressure to send the tanks, to make the same decision.
Macron set three conditions to send the Leclercs. One, that it does not cause an escalation of the war that could end up turning the Western allies into belligerents. Two, that it supposes a “real and effective” help for Ukraine and, therefore, does not require too long training. And three, that it does not weaken France’s defensive capabilities.
Macron and Scholz’s press conference was held this Sunday in Paris on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Elysée Treaty, by which President Charles de Gaulle and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer sealed Franco-German reconciliation after 75 years of wars. A treaty that, in the words of Gaulle, “opened wide the doors of a new future for Germany, for France, for Europe and therefore for the world”.
The objective of this Franco-German Sunday – the speeches by Macron and Scholz before the parliamentarians of both countries, the joint Council of Ministers in the Elysée, the press conference and the dinner for the leaders – was to repair one of the biggest crises in the bilateral relationship in recent years. Tensions surfaced when, in October, both made the unusual decision to postpone the joint Council of Ministers that was finally held this Sunday.
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The reason for the postponement was a succession of disagreements on economic or military policy, and coordination problems between the two capitals. A year after the departure of Angela Merkel from the chancellorship, the chemistry between Macron and Scholz did not quite flow. Given the difficulty in reaching agreements, they judged it preferable to give themselves more time.
Between France and Germany, the differences are substantial. They are in geostrategic issues and the meaning of what both call a “sovereign” Europe: Germany, more attached to NATO and the US; France, to the Gaullist tradition of Europe as a mediating and “balancing” power between the great world powers. There are differences in energy policy, between a France that continues to bet on nuclear energy and a Germany in the final phase of denuclearization. The massive green investment plan of the US – the so-called law for the reduction of inflation – harms the competitiveness of the Europeans, who are looking for joint responses.
The war has changed Europe. And also Germany, which has broken its energy dependence on Russia and has decided to skyrocket military spending. As happened in 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the invasion of Ukraine in 2022 rearranges the European cards and puts the Franco-German engine under stress. At the same time, it weakens it: the European Union’s center of gravity shifts to the east. And Russia’s closest geographical partners believe that time has proved them right regarding Moscow. While they warned of the danger posed by President Vladimir Putin, Paris and Berlin courted him.
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