Even the greeting is extremely friendly. A firm and long handshake in front of the Elyséepalast, both laugh together, wave together at the cameras. Initially, there was not much more to see from Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron this Wednesday afternoon.
An originally announced joint press conference was canceled again at short notice. The two also refrain from making joint statements at the beginning of the meeting.
What remains is lunch together in the palace's "Salon des Portraits" - behind closed doors. A working lunch, as they say. And there is a lot of work for both of them. There is a tremendous crunch in Franco-German relations. So loud that it can no longer be hidden. Macron delivered the high point in the Franco-German relationship crisis last week when he warned Germany of isolation in Europe at the EU summit.
Having lunch together is supposed to bring relaxation. The two sit together for a total of three hours, significantly longer than planned. Finally, they talk privately for 20 minutes. It's about the broad lines of European policy, about energy issues, skyrocketing prices, security policy.
The German side then talks about a very intensive, very cooperative encounter, which stands in "considerable contrast to the media situation surrounding this meeting". It was a matter of "strategic self-assurance" that one agreed on central issues. In the end, both sides were of the opinion that it was worth talking intensively.
"We have manifested the will to work together"
The next few months will show whether the two can really pick up where they started. Then it's a matter of untying the knot in the concrete points of contention.
It's been a year since Scholz introduced himself as the new Federal Chancellor at the Elysée Palace. At the time, he assured the President that he wanted to pull together with him for a strong Europe. And Macron wanted a similarly good interaction with Scholz as with his predecessor Angela Merkel. "We have manifested the will to work together," he summarized the result of the first meeting with the newcomer from Berlin.
There wasn't much of a trace of this will of late. At the beginning of last week, a joint cabinet meeting of both governments in Fontainebleau near Paris was postponed indefinitely - a very unusual step for such close partners. Something must have gone wrong before that.
And then, at the summit in Brussels, Macron also joined the general Germany bashing because of the Chancellor's resistance to a European gas price cap and because of his 200 billion program to cushion high energy costs. Some EU countries - including France - see this as a risk of distorting competition. Scholz, on the other hand, believes that France and many other countries are no different.
Since then, many have worried about the state of Franco-German relations, which are repeatedly praised as Europe's engine. Opposition leader Friedrich Merz (CDU) told the Chancellor about the "Augsburger Allgemeine" on the way to Paris: "The Chancellor must use this trip to get the Franco-German engine running again."
Problems with joint armaments projects
In addition to energy and financial policy, there is a problem between the two countries when it comes to armaments - above all when it comes to the development of the new FCAS combat aircraft from Dassault and Airbus. It is unclear when the two companies will come together.
While Germany wants to build a better European air defense system with 14 other countries, France is staying out, reportedly worried about a possible arms race. The reason for the French reluctance could also be that the defense system could come from Israel or the USA - and the French-Italian system Mamba is left out.
Prague speech on Europe without acknowledgment of France
The Elysée Palace is also unlikely to have liked the fact that Scholz did not particularly emphasize the importance of Franco-German relations for Europe in his keynote speech on European policy in Prague a few weeks ago. In his most recent European policy speech at the Congress of European Social Democrats in Berlin, he no longer mentioned France at all.
But Macron also likes to do his own thing. After Merkel's departure, he can now distinguish himself as the more experienced player alongside newcomer Scholz at the top of Europe. And despite all the disputes, the European stage offers the domestically weakened liberal a rather grateful stage. For example, he pushed ahead alone with the idea of the European Political Community instead of presenting the proposal, which Berlin later supported, together with Scholz.
Joint cabinet meeting probably in January
At the meeting in Paris, concrete projects are said to have been initiated, according to German government circles. What exactly it is about has not yet been revealed. The joint cabinet meeting should be made up for in January if possible. Then you will know more.