Macron begins state visit to Germany to build ties

French President wants to ease tension with neighbouring nation and will warn of dangers of far right before EU elections

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Emmanuel Macron arrived in Berlin on Sunday to begin a state visit to Germany, the first by a French president in almost a quarter of a century.

High on the his agenda will be easing recent tensions with Germany and warning of the dangers of the far right ahead of EU elections.

After Mr Macron will spend three days in the country, making four stops during the visit.

He will seek to emphasise the historic importance of the postwar 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 occupation during the Second World War.

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

In a question-and-answer session on social media with young people this month, Mr 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!" Mr Scholz said in French in a video on Mr Macron's X feed.

"Thank you Olaf! I very much agree with you," Mr Macron replied in heavily accented German.

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

On Sunday afternoon Mr Macron held 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 festival.

Mr Macron will visit in the western German city of Munster and later in Meseberg, outside Berlin, on Tuesday, for talks with Mr Scholz and a Franco-German joint cabinet meeting.

German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung took note of Mr 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."

The trip comes two weeks before European elections where polls show, in a major potential embarrassment for Mr Macron, his coalition trailing well behind the far right, meaning it 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 feature Mr Macron warning of the danger the far right poses to Europe.

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

"Our Europe, today, is mortal and it can die," Mr 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 Mr Macron's refusal to rule out sending troops to Ukraine sparked an unusually acidic response from Mr Scholz that Germany had no such plans.

Germany also does not share Mr Macron's enthusiasm for a European strategic autonomy less dependent on the US.

"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.

Updated: May 26, 2024, 7:03 PM