Macron arrives in Germany for first French president visit in 40 years

AFP , Sunday 26 May 2024

Emmanuel Macron on Sunday arrived in Berlin on the first state visit to Germany by a French president in a quarter century, seeking to ease recent tensions and warn of the dangers of the far right ahead of European Union elections.

The EU, French, and German flags flutter in front of the Reichstag building housing the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) on May 26, 2024, ahead of a state visit by the French President. AFP


Macron's plane landed at a Berlin airport, according to AFP, at the start of his three-day, four-stop visit that will seek to emphasise the historic importance of the post-war relationship between the two key EU states, as France next month commemorates 80 years since the D-Day landings that marked the beginning of the end of German World War II occupation.

But all has not been smooth in a relationship often seen as the engine of the EU, with Berlin taken aback by Macron's refusal to rule out sending troops to Ukraine and German officials said to be uneasy at times about his often-theatrical style of foreign policy.

In a question-and-answer session on social media with young people this month, Macron enlisted help from German Chancellor Olaf Scholz when asked if the Franco-German "couple" was still working.

"Hello dear friends, long live French-German friendship!" Scholz said in French in a video on Macron's X feed. "Thank you Olaf! I very much agree with you," Macron replied in heavily accented German.

While Macron is a frequent visitor to Berlin, the trip is the first state visit in 24 years following a trip by Jacques Chirac in 2000 and the sixth since the first post-war state visit by Charles de Gaulle in 1962.

On Sunday afternoon Macron was set to hold talks with German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whose role is largely ceremonial.

On Monday afternoon he will travel to Dresden in the former East Germany to deliver a speech on Europe at a European festival. Tuesday sees Macron in the western German city of Munster and later in Meseberg, outside Berlin, for talks with Scholz and a Franco-German joint cabinet meeting.

German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung took note of Macron's planned trip to eastern Germany.

"Franco-German relations, which are so important for European stability, have long been primarily a relationship with western Germany," the newspaper said.

"This is still largely the case today. But Emmanuel Macron is driven by the ambition to change that."

'Awkward, verging on hostile' 

The trip comes two weeks ahead of European elections where polls show, in a major potential embarrassment for Macron, his coalition is trailing well behind the far right and may struggle to even reach third place.

The speech in Dresden, a city where the German Alternative for Germany (AfD) garners considerable support, will likely see Macron warn of the danger the far right poses to Europe.

In a keynote address on foreign policy last month, Macron issued a dire warning about the threats to Europe in a changing world in the wake of Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

"Our Europe, today, is mortal and it can die," Macron said. "It can die and this depends only on our choices."

Officials from both sides are at pains to emphasise that while there are periodic tensions on specific issues, the fundamental basis of the relationship remains sound.

But Macron's refusal to rule out sending troops to Ukraine sparked an unusually acidic response from Scholz that Germany had no such plans. Germany also does not share Macron's enthusiasm for a European strategic autonomy less dependent on the United States.

"The Franco-German relationship is about disagreeing and trying to find ways of compromise," said Helene Miard-Delacroix, specialist in German history at the Sorbonne university in Paris.

Mujtaba Rahman, managing director for Europe at risk analysis firm Eurasia Group, said relations between France and Germany "remain awkward, verging on hostile".

"On the big issues, little progress should be expected," he said on X.

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