France and Germany delay talks after cracks appear on energy crisis

Germany says EU allies need more time to overcome differences

Emmanuel Macron, left, meets Olaf Scholz in Berlin to mark Germany's day of unity on October 3. Getty
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France and Germany have postponed a joint meeting of their governments after cracks emerged between the two allies on tackling the winter energy crisis.

The regular talks between President Emmanuel Macron, Chancellor Olaf Scholz and their ministerial colleagues will no longer take place next week as planned.

Mr Scholz's spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said the reasons were partly logistical, but acknowledged there were differences between Berlin and Paris and “more time” was needed to find consensus.

“There are a number of different issues that we are dealing with at the moment … on which we have not yet reached a unified position,” he told a press conference on Wednesday.

Mr Hebestreit would not be drawn on what issues were unresolved between France and Germany, whose partnership has often been described as the engine of Europe.

However, several differences have spilt into the open in recent weeks on handling the winter energy crunch.

Germany openly blamed France's reduced electricity exports for worsening the energy squeeze at home, forcing ministers in Berlin to postpone its long-planned exit from nuclear power.

France, in turn, was among the countries to react coolly to Germany's vast €200 billion ($194.5bn) bailout package, rescuing its economy in a way most EU countries could never afford.

Mr Macron called for “unity and solidarity” in an interview with Les Echos newspaper last week in which he said that “we cannot stick to national policies, because this creates distortions”.

Germany's Emsland nuclear plant will remain on standby longer than planned after France reduced electricity exports. Reuters

Another rift concerns the proposed MidCat gas pipeline linking Spain to the rest of Europe. Mr Scholz is lobbying for the connection to be built, but Mr Macron is sceptical that the long construction time is worth it.

The two countries are also at odds over gas prices in the EU. France supports a Europe-wide cap, but Germany fears it would limit the bloc's ability to buy gas on the world market.

Long-standing differences over nuclear power, which France supports and Germany opposes, came back to the surface when the EU ruled that atomic energy should be classed as sustainable.

And there has been occasional grumbling in Berlin that while Germany has taken heavy criticism for stuttering military aid to Ukraine, France's support for Kyiv has not been obviously superior.

Despite the delay, Mr Scholz's spokesman said he was “very, very confident” that the regular talks, now expected in January, would not be pushed back a second time.

He said Mr Scholz and Mr Macron would still be meeting regularly, including at this week's EU summit in Brussels and possibly again in Paris next Wednesday.

Updated: October 20, 2022, 7:26 AM
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