Germany and France reaffirm determination to help Ukraine ‘for as long as necessary’

Declarations of support follow criticism from Poland over refusal to send tanks

The war in Ukraine dominated commemorations on Sunday of the Treaty of the Élysée, which reconciled France and Germany 60 years ago.

President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Olaf Scholz reaffirmed the often-difficult friendship between their countries and reiterated their determination to help Ukraine “for as long as necessary”.

Mr Scholz said: “Vladimir Putin’s imperialism will not triumph ... We will not allow Europe to fall back into an epoch when violence replaced politics ... We will continue to provide Ukraine with all the support it needs for as long as necessary.”

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Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, had just lashed out at Germany for its reluctance to send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, or even grant export licences to other EU countries to transfer their German-made tanks.

It was difficult to square the German and French leaders’ emphatic declarations of support for Ukraine with their continued refusal to send the tanks which Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskiy says he urgently needs.

Mr Scholz was on the defensive when asked at their press conference if he would relent.

Germany and France had done a great deal to help Ukraine financially, with humanitarian aid and weapons, Mr Scholz said. “For decades we did not deliver weapons to territories in conflict. We modified our policy for an excellent reason: the war of Russia against Ukraine.”

The chancellor listed Germain military aid to Ukraine: artillery, long-range rocket launchers and most recently Marder armoured vehicles and Patriot missiles.

“I am afraid this war will last an extremely long time, and Ukraine must know that we are not going to give up and that we will continue to help them,” Mr Scholz said. “But we have an important principle. We work together in a concerted manner.”

Mr Macron was slightly more positive regarding the possible transfer of Leclerc tanks. “I asked the minister of defence to work on it,” he said. “Nothing is excluded.”

France has three criteria for sending Leclercs, Macron said: they must not escalate the conflict; they must “provide real and efficacious support to our Ukrainian friends, taking account of their capacity to train and maintain them”, and the transfer must not weaken France’s ability to defend itself.

There were breakthroughs on two items of discord between France and Germany. Mr Macron announced that the H2Med project, which is to deliver green hydrogen energy from Spain and Portugal to southern France, will be extended to Germany.

Mr Macron has for months campaigned for a robust European reaction to US president Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, which will give €340 billion in subsidies to US companies involved in the energy transition. He said France and Germany have agreed on an “ambitious and rapid” response which will be based on simplicity and greater visibility for European aid mechanisms.

Earlier in the day the German leader gave what was for him an unusually emotional speech, referring warmly to France as an “indispensable” nation and embracing Mr Macron’s aspiration for “European sovereignty”.

Mr Macron made his landmark address on Europe at the Sorbonne in September 2017. Mr Scholz delivered an important speech on his vision of Europe at Charles University in Prague last summer. Leaders in both countries were annoyed not to have been consulted in advance and the French were disappointed by what they saw as a lack of enthusiasm for co-operation with France on the part of Mr Scholz.

Both recognised the importance of the other’s past speeches on Sunday. “Our shared will and determination are a decisive step towards the sovereign Europe that you demanded in this very place more than five years ago, dear Emmanuel,” Mr Scholz said. “I am grateful to you.”

He said “geopolitical Europe” – another concept dear to Macron – “must become a strong, credible actor on the world stage”.

Yesterday’s 23rd joint Council of Ministers, held on Sunday afternoon at the Élysée, had been postponed for three months because of disagreement, including over joint development of weapons systems. In an apparent attempt to please Mr Macron, Mr Scholz said it was “so important that we develop together the next generation of European combat aircraft and tanks in Germany and in France”.

Franco-German friendship was “the locomotive” of Europe, Mr Scholz said. “The future, like the past, depends on co-operation between our two countries as the locomotive of a united Europe ... the Franco-German engine works not only when it purrs softly ... The Franco-German engine is ... a well-oiled machine that can sometimes be noisy and require arduous labour.”

There was a difference in attitude towards further EU enlargement. Mr Scholz said that Ukraine, Moldova and the western Balkans “are part of our European family”. Mr Macron said only that “we will continue to accompany them on the path to necessary reforms.”

Mr Macron said Germany and France had been “twinned by fate and history” for 1,000 years, from union under Frankish kings to the trenches of Verdun. They had been “rivals, allies, enemies to the point of madness ... so that when a Frenchman speaks of Germany, he is talking about a part of himself.”

Mr Macron called the Treaty of the Élysée the “founding act” of Franco-German friendship and “an immense gesture of courage”. The anniversary “has particular significance at a time when Ukraine is resisting Russian aggression, when the ideal of peace and dialogue has been flouted, when the very hope of a humanist order in Europe is threatened,” he said.

“Our unswerving support for the Ukrainian people will continue in all fields,” Mr Macron promised. He spoke repeatedly of “new ambition” for the Franco-German relationship and for Europe. “We are two souls within the same chest,” he said, quoting the German Nobel laureate Thomas Mann in another context.

Yaël Braun-Pivet, the president of the French National Assembly, and Bärbel Bas, the president of the German Bundestag, visited the tomb of Simone Veil at the Pantheon before participating in the commemoration at the Sorbonne.

Ms Veil, the French Jewish stateswoman who survived Auschwitz but lost her family in the Holocaust, “found the strength to hold out a hand to the Germans” Ms Bas said.

Current French and German leaders were born after the second World War, but Ms Braun-Pivet, a relative newcomer to French politics, infused the Sorbonne ceremony with emotion by telling how her German and Polish grandparents took refuge from the Nazis in Alsace.

“As a child, I heard words of love from my grandmother in German, and the hope of a happy life in Europe,” Ms Braun-Pivet said. “She would be so happy to see us united here today.”

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe is Paris Correspondent of The Irish Times