At the end of two days packed with meetings and discussions, Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz expressed his positive impressions of the Franco-German cabinet retreat. “The format works. Continuing it is something we shall and ought to do,” Scholz said at a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron in Hamburg. Describing Hamburg as the “gateway to the world,” Scholz said the historic centre of trade and commerce had been a good location for the event.
In addition to talks between Scholz and Macron, ministers from the two cabinets held discussions during the first Franco-German cabinet retreat, between Monday and Tuesday afternoon.
Scholz said the retreat had been planned to be a long-term event as a way of expressing the unique quality and closeness of relations between France and Germany. In the short term, he added, it had proved to be an important forum for discussing urgent global policy issues.
Firm support for Israel
Accordingly the Federal Chancellor started by addressing the situation in Israel. During a telephone conference on Monday evening with Macron, US President Biden, Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni, and UK PM Rishi Sunak, Scholz said they had reached a consensus. “We condemn in the strongest possible terms the barbaric attacks by terrorists on innocent Israeli civilians,” he said.
The Federal Chancellor stressed Israel’s right to defend itself against “inhumane attacks”. He emphasised that Germany “is standing firmly and resolutely together at the side of Israel,” and he stressed the need to prevent regional escalation.
Strengthening social cohesion
Scholz next turned his attention to the agenda for the retreat. One key element of the discussions focused on how to organise social cohesion in times of upheaval. The Federal Chancellor described the signs of declining cohesion and the upsurge in the popularity of far-right and populist forces in Western democracies. “As representatives of liberal democracies, we cannot stand idly by in the face of these developments,” he said, while describing the discussions in Hamburg as trusting and open.
In his view, the retreat had shown that “our countries and societies face very similar challenges. We can overcome them because we are strong and thriving democracies, and because we have innovative and adaptable economies. From that we should draw optimism and confidence.” He argued that a “strong and sovereign Europe” was an important precondition “for us to be able to maintain our place in the world in the face of all these global changes.”
Expanding collaboration on AI
Scholz said that the retreat had also addressed the question of how to promote and accelerate European technological sovereignty, with a particular focus on artificial intelligence.
The Federal Chancellor saw many commonalities in this area, describing how Germany and France shared the same goals of making the most of the opportunities of technological progress and shaping the future together. On the subject of AI, Scholz said that the talks had explored the possibilities it offers, as well as considering the skills which already exist in business and academia in Europe. “More can be done,” Scholz said and announced his intention to accelerate the partnership even further.
Aid for Ukraine remains essential
The Federal Chancellor also picked out three other topics which had featured in the bilateral talks.
- Support for Ukraine remained an important matter, he said, where the current priority was minimising the effect of Russian terror bombing on the civilian population during Autumn and Winter. Scholz also reaffirmed France and Germany’s long-term support for Ukraine and explained that Germany was “currently negotiating bilateral security commitments with Ukraine.”
- “Europe needs to pick up the pace.” These were the words with which the Federal Chancellor described current plans to clear out the “jungle of sub-sections and bureaucracy” in the European Union. He stressed that this was already a familiar topic from the debate within Germany. “In order to make the necessary changes to promote growth and competitiveness in our economy, we need to cut back bureaucracy,” he said.
- He also noted the close partnership between France and Germany around migration. “We need a common European system which order, clear rules and effective procedures to irregular migration. Emmanuel and I are of one mind on that,” Scholz said. The Federal Chancellor said the governments of the two countries would “drive forwards” the reforms of the common European asylum system.
Powering up discussions on energy
The Federal Chancellor and French President also held intensive discussions on energy. “We also addressed the question of how to integrate energy systems in Europe so well that we can generate growth and reduce electricity prices from doing so. This is another area where we are working intensively and constructively to develop solutions together,” Scholz said.
He stressed the agreement between the two countries and their will to find common solutions. “We agree on many things, such as our intention to do everything we can to make Europe’s economy as climate-neutral as possible by the middle of the century. The ways of getting there are different, but they fit together well.” He reaffirmed Germany’s commitment to massively expand renewable energy and the electricity network, including as part of partnerships with neighbours such as France. Scholz also stressed that although nuclear power is a more significant factor in France, that was no grounds for differences, just for different decisions. “We must also ensure that things fit together well. Our outlook on the design of future European electricity markets is that the best way for us to succeed is by having a common European solution.”