Status: 10.12.2021 6:32 p.m.
Of course, Chancellor Scholz’s inaugural visits to Paris and Brussels were about Europe – but above all about the Ukraine conflict. EU Commission chief von der Leyen chose the clearest words and threatened Russia with sanctions.
First Paris, then Brussels – this travel route has meanwhile become a certain tradition for new chancellors – and Olaf Scholz also stuck to it. In both Western European cities, Scholz emphasized the importance of the EU, but in both cities a conflict played a central role, which is currently taking place far in Eastern Europe – in the border area between Russia and Ukraine.
The situation at the border is viewed with concern, said the Chancellor in Paris on his inaugural visit to President Emmanuel Macron. Scholz alluded to reports of Russian troop movements and emphasized the inviolability of the borders. “It has to be clear again. This rule applies to everyone. It’s not just about power, it’s also about principles that apply to everyone,” emphasized Scholz.
The new Chancellor and Macron spoke out in favor of reviving Franco-German mediation efforts in the region. “There are good foundations that have to be reactivated (…), for example cooperation in the Normandy format,” said Scholz, referring to the discussions in which Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany are taking part. Russia had recently avoided this format.
Von der Leyen: “Aggression must have a price tag”
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, with whom Scholz met in the afternoon, became even clearer. “Aggression must have a price tag,” said von der Leyen at a joint press conference. “We expect Russia to de-escalate and refrain from any aggression against its neighbors.” Otherwise the EU is ready not only to tighten the existing sanctions, “but also to take new, tangible measures in other areas from economy to finance”.
Von der Leyen left open whether an operating ban on the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline, which runs from Russia to Germany, could also be part of the sanctions package – as did Scholz.
Scholz: Concern about the many troops on the border
The Chancellor said the German government was “concerned about the large number of troops on the border with Ukraine”. In Europe there should be “no threat scenarios”. It is clear that Germany, the European Union and many other countries would react if there were border violations. But just as clear in this situation is that the task must be aimed at preventing precisely that. “We want security and cooperation in Europe. We want the borders to remain and remain inviolable. And that is what it is all about now,” said Scholz.
The background to the statements are the findings of NATO, according to which Russia has currently drawn between 75,000 and 100,000 soldiers on the border with Ukraine. The developments bring back memories of 2014. At that time, Russia had annexed the Crimean peninsula after the coup in Ukraine and began supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine, which is still ongoing.
Scholz also emphasized in Brussels how important Europe was to him.
“A very encouraging signal”
Von der Leyen also emphasized at the press conference how important the role Germany is playing for the EU. The German chancellor has always had a very formative influence. “That is why your early visit here at the European Commission is a very encouraging signal for all of us,” said von der Leyen to Scholz. The Chancellor said the Ampel coalition felt responsible “for progress in Europe”.
The SPD politician Scholz and the CDU politician von der Leyen sat together in two federal cabinets under the former Chancellor Angela Merkel. “We have known each other personally for a number of years and have worked together well and trustingly,” said von der Leyen. “And of course that also helps in my new role.”
Close cooperation with France
Scholz had previously been to Paris for his inaugural visit. Macron received the SPD politician in the Élysée Palace for a private conversation and lunch. Both confirmed the will for close Franco-German cooperation.
“It’s about how we can make Europe strong, European sovereignty in all the dimensions that go with it. It’s about economic issues, security issues and foreign policy issues,” said Scholz. It is important “that we act in the same direction, that we work together”.
Macron said the close cooperation between the two countries should continue as it did with ex-Chancellor Merkel. “We have manifested the will to work together.” The meeting laid a solid foundation for cooperation between the two countries, also with a view to Europe and international issues.