PARIS | Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron on Friday defended the controversial European strategy on anti-Covid vaccines and displayed their unity in condemning Moscow’s attitude in the case of the opponent Alexeï Navalny.
• Read also: All the developments of the pandemic
Following a Franco-German defense council by videoconference, the two leaders came to the aid of the European Commission, under fire from criticism for the insufficient doses of vaccine available.
“I fully support the European approach that we have had,” said Emmanuel Macron. By asking ourselves: “What would we say if France and Germany were today in competition on vaccines ?. “We will only get out of this epidemic in Europeans”, he insisted.
Angela Merkel reaffirmed that the decision to order doses together was and remains “the correct one”. Even if the production capacities “were not as big as we imagined”.
Emmanuel Macron thus recognized that the Europeans had “not anticipated” the “so rapid success on messenger RNA vaccines”, those of Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna having been the first available, of which “a good part of the production was done in the United States ”. But, he assured, “we were able to speed things up” and the vaccination campaign will go “much better” in April.
The French President wanted to “salute the commitment of Ursula Von der Leyen, the President of the Commission, who negotiated contracts with vaccine manufacturers on behalf of the 27 Member States and secured more than 2.2 billion doses – for 450 million Europeans. ‘Health is not normally a community competence and so we, walking, invented a policy that did not exist,’ he stressed.
On Russia, the two leaders strongly denounced the expulsion, announced by Moscow during their meeting, of three diplomats from Germany, Poland and Sweden accused of having participated in a demonstration in favor of the imprisoned opponent Alexeï Navalny.
This decision is’ unjustified ‘, denounced Angela Merkel, while Emmanuel Macron showed his solidarity by condemning’ with the greatest firmness’ the expulsion but also the attitude of the Russian authorities on the Navalny affair ‘from the beginning to the end ‘, that is to say’ from poisoning (…) to condemnation ‘of the opponent.
Despite these criticisms, Merkel nevertheless reiterated her attachment to the controversial Nord Stream 2 project, a gas pipeline that will link Russia and Germany, even if any ‘energy dependence’ on Moscow should be avoided.
‘This project is almost finished’ and ‘nothing can be announced without close Franco-German coordination’, said Emmanuel Macron, while the French Secretary of State for European Affairs Clément Beaune had suggested Monday in Berlin to freeze this project to protest against the fate of Alexeï Navalny.
For Ms. Merkel, “it is necessary to speak with Russia”, a position also defended by Emmanuel Macron who sees it as a condition for “the peace and stability of Europe”.
During the meeting, Merkel and Macron took stock of the industrial agreement to lead in 2026 to the construction of a flight demonstrator of the Air Combat System of the Future (SCAF), the flagship program of the defense cooperation between the two countries.
They intend to validate it ‘by spring’, according to the French president, which would guarantee the future of this project which is progressing laboriously and illustrates the complexity of military cooperation between the two countries. The German daily Handelsblatt thus estimated on Friday that ‘the most important European armaments project was in crisis’.
But Berlin and Paris, associated with Madrid, hope to validate before the German elections in September and the presidential election in France in spring 2022 the industrial study contracts (phase 1B) to lead to a flight demonstrator of the SCAF, which should replace the ‘horizon 2040 the French Rafale and German and Spanish Eurofighter.
In view of the next departure of Merkel, Emmanuel Macron spoke on Friday with one of his potential successors, the Bavarian Markus Söder, who described the exchange as “harmonious”. The French president refrained from making “predictions” on the future name of the chancellor, affirming his determination to “work hand in hand” with Angela Merkel “until the last second” of his mandate in September.