By Miranda Murray and John Irish
BERLIN/PARIS (Reuters) – The French and German governments have postponed a meeting planned for next week until January, officials said on Wednesday, after what sources told Reuters were divisions including over energy policy and defence.
European countries have emphasised the need to stay united after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February but their unity has been tested by an energy crisis that has pummelled major Western economies.
French officials have expressed frustration with what they say has been a series of unilateral decisions by Germany, including a 200 billion euro energy package unveiled by Berlin without advanced warning to Paris.
Paris has opposed an initiative pushed by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Spain to build a new gas pipeline across the Pyrenees to replace dwindling Russian supplies.
France also looked askance at German-led moves to procure air defence systems including from the United States instead of sourcing them from Europe.
A German government spokesperson told a briefing that both sides had decided that the postponement made sense due to logistical issues and bilateral discussions that needed more time to reach an agreement.
A French presidency official echoed Berlin’s comments saying the two sides needed “more time” to reach agreements on issues including energy policy and defence cooperation.
“There is a common desire to have something more ambitious … on defence and how we align European sovereignty with the needs and choices that have been made and on energy questions to see with the Germans how we build a European sovereign strategy,” the official told reporters.
The official played down that there was a rift between Berlin and Paris.
German sources told Reuters that French President Emmanuel Macron wanted a more ambitious agreement to be concluded at the meeting next week that was due to take place in Fontainebleau, south of Paris.
Some French diplomats have said that criticising Germany publicly is counter-productive and not a vote-winner with Macron’s pro-European voter base. But others say they feel Germany is throwing its weight around and taking decisions that are sometimes against French interests.
France generates most of its electricity with nuclear power and is far less dependent than Germany on natural gas. But French officials say they worry that the 200 billion euro German plan could distort the European market because other countries do not have the same means to protect their citizens.
The French are angry “with the Germans, especially Scholz. They aren’t saying it in public but they are furious in private,” said a European source in contact with the French government.
“The Germans are doing what the French are often accused of: making decisions without consulting its partners to serve their interests.”
France and Germany were also embroiled in a dispute over nuclear energy in a debate last year, with Germany opposing France’s efforts to have nuclear labelled as ‘green’ by the European Union.
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(Reporting by Miranda Murray, Andreas Rinke, John Irish, Michel Rose; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Peter Graff)