France and Germany must 'overcome difficulties' to prevent rise of populism, Attal says


On his first trip abroad as Prime Minister, France's Gabriel Attal called for a reboot of Franco-German relations, saying the two countries needed to rise above their disagreements and prevent the swing towards populism and extremism.

"The Franco-German friendship is one of the great opportunities in our history," German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told a joint press conference after meeting France's Prime Minister Gabriel Attal in Berlin on Monday evening.

"Faced with uncertainties linked to wars, inflation, global warming, the two countries will need to work closely together to prevent momentum for far-right populist movements," Scholz added.

A "sharp right turn" is likely to sweep European Union elections this year, with populists, eurosceptics and conservatives projected to collectively grab nearly half of the European Parliament's seats in June, according to a study by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)  published last month

"We measure the strength of Europe by the solidity of Franco-German friendship, that our two nations move forward together and Europe can accelerate, develops and regain its power," Attal added.

Attempts to scuttle Europe
Despite the show of diplomatic entente, however, there are many points of friction between Paris and Berlin and officials from both countries are keen show their determination to put the relationship back on track.

Any form of division between countries like Germany and France would risk making the rest of Europe hesitant, Attal said.

"It is what the populists are waiting for, something on which the extremes feast, watching for the slightest of our differences to flatter the baser instincts and try to scuttle Europe," he underlined.

Anti-European populists will likely end up as the top EU vote picks in nine countries – including France, where Marine Le Pen's anti-immigrant National Rally is polling well ahead of President Emmanuel Macron's centrist Renaissance party; and Italy, with Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy party to consolidate its sway.

Populist parties were predicted to come second or third in another nine countries, among them Germany, where the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) is expected to double its score, as well as in Spain, Finland and Sweden.

"The far-right parties "have one thing in common: they want to deconstruct Europe," Attal said.

Ukraine military aid

Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine has exposed several fundamental differences over the historic alliance of the two countries, who represent the driving force behind European construction, energy and industrial cooperation programs on combat aircraft and the tank of the future.

On military aid to Ukraine, Olaf Scholz has called for more investment, to which Attal promised that Paris would "continue to invest financially and in technical and military means to support the Ukrainians".

New promises of Western aid to Kyiv have fallen to their lowest level since the start of the Russian invasion, the German research institute Kiel Institute calculated in early December.

"There are always difficult moments in the relationship between France and Germany. But these moments must never make us go backwards" and "never make us give up," Attal said.

On the agricultural crisis affecting their two countries, Olaf Scholz reaffirmed his support for the trade agreement being negotiated between the EU and the Latin American countries of Mercosur, which France opposes, highlighting the "prospects of growth" for Europe.

Attal admitted that they "agreed to disagree" on this subject and reiterated Paris' concern that "the conditions have not been not met" for this agreement to be ratified.

Nevertheless, "2024 will be a special year for Franco-German relations", underlined the Chancellor, notably with the state visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to Germany at the end of May.