Merkel, Macron Agree to Advance Joint European Weapons Projects

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron agreed to advance joint defense projects at a critical time for Europe’s ambitions to take on a greater global role.

Amid signs of a rapprochement between Europe and the U.S. and renewed tensions with Russia, Merkel and Macron on Friday stressed the determination of their countries to develop new European weapons systems. The countries are looking to clear up issues in the coming weeks, Merkel said after a video conference.

The meeting comes at a delicate moment for Europe, as France and Germany seek to establish a defense apparatus that can respond to modern security threats independently of the U.S., which retreated from transatlantic cooperation over the past four years.

European Union leaders will discuss how to reinforce “defense investment, capability development and operational readiness” during a special summit starting Feb. 25.

“Strengthening the EU’s security and defense policy will contribute to increasing its ability to act autonomously and to promote its strategic interests and values on the global stage,” the European Council said in a memo sent to delegations ahead of the summit and seen by Bloomberg.

The two leaders convened as part of the German-French defense and security council, which was founded in 2017 in order to advance several defense projects between the countries. The two most important projects -- the FCAS next-generation fighter jet and the MGCS tank project -- have made little progress, and the countries have been pushing different agendas in recent weeks.

While French Defense Minister Florence Parly said last month that the goal for the joint weapons projects is to contract the next phase “by mid-2021 at the latest,” her German counterpart recently called into question the basic premise of a European defense system.

“Illusions of European strategic autonomy must come to an end,” Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer wrote in a commentary for Politico in November. “Europeans will not be able to replace America’s crucial role as a security provider,” she said in the article that drew a sharp rebuke from Macron.

More recently, a rift between Germany and France has deepened over the disputed Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Russia. French Junior European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune this week voiced his country’s continued opposition to the project.

“We’ve always said that we have the greatest of doubts about that project in these conditions,” Beaune told France Info radio on Monday.

Merkel has made it clear that she’s not planning to abandon Nord Stream, despite the prospect of fresh European Union sanctions on Russia over the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexey Navalny. After a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on Friday, Europe’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell repeated demands for the release of Navalny.

Before his meeting with Merkel, Macron held a video conference with Bavarian state leader Markus Soeder, who is currently seen as the frontrunner to succeed Merkel after she steps down following elections in September.

The discussion could have been an early appeal for support. Soeder backs FCAS because Bavarian companies are involved in the project, according to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung,

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