Macron, Scholz offer more military aid for Ukraine without committing to tanks

French president says door is not closed to delivery of Leclercs, while German chancellor makes decision on the Leopards subject to coordination with allies

French President Emmanuel Macron (right) and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz this Sunday at the Elysée Palace in Paris.
French President Emmanuel Macron (right) and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz this Sunday at the Elysée Palace in Paris.LUDOVIC MARIN (AFP)

France and Germany on Sunday pledged to increase military aid to Ukraine for as long as necessary, but stressed that the shipment of Western-made battle tanks is subject to a coordinated decision with the United States and its allies.

At a joint news conference following a summit in Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron said that “nothing has been ruled out” regarding the possible delivery of some of France’s powerful Leclerc batte tanks to the Ukrainian Army, and that he has asked his defense minister to “work on” the idea. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz avoided mentioning the Leopard 2 tanks, which Germany makes and Ukraine has been urgently requesting ahead of an expected intensification of the fighting in the spring.

Macron’s statement increases the pressure on Scholz to either send the Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine or approve their transfer by other countries that have signaled a desire to do so. Last night, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock opened the door to Poland providing the Leopards to Ukraine. In an interview on French TV channel LCI, she said that “for the moment the question has not been asked, but if we were asked we would not stand in the way.”

At the French-German summit, both leaders proclaimed their “unwavering support” for Ukraine. The German chancellor said he fears that the war will last for a long time yet, but that Ukraine will continue to receive support. The leaders said they would “stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.”

One of the conditions that both Macron and Scholz set for sending the tanks was that it should be done in close consultation with the allies. Germany has indicated that it would not take the decision alone and has expressed a desire for other countries to contribute as well. In addition to the French Leclercs, the debate is whether the United States should also deliver its own Abrams battle tanks.

There are currently around 2,000 Leopards in several European countries, including Spain and Poland. What Ukraine and some allies are asking Scholz is to at least authorize the export of Leopards by other countries, which are bound by their contracts to seek this permission. That was the path that Minister Baerbock left open in her statements to LCI.

Macron set three conditions for sending French Leclerc tanks to Ukraine. One, that it must not cause an escalation of the war that could end up turning the Western allies into belligerents. Two, that it should provide “real and effective” help for Ukraine and, therefore, not require too much training time. And three, that it does not weaken France’s defensive capabilities.

60 years of the Elysée Treaty

The Sunday summit marked the 60th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty signed by French President Charles de Gaulle and West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer on January 22, 1963. The treaty sealed the French-German reconciliation after 75 years of wars. And, in the words of De Gaulle, it opened wide the doors of a new future for Germany, for France, for Europe and for the world.

The aim of the summit was to repair one of the biggest crises in the bilateral relationship in recent years. Tensions surfaced in October, when both countries took the unusual decision to postpone a joint cabinet meeting that finally took place this Sunday. The reason for the postponement was a succession of disagreements over economic and military policy, as well as coordination problems between the two capitals.

There are substantial differences between France and Germany. On geostrategic issues and the meaning of what both call a “sovereign” Europe, Germany is more attached to NATO and the US, while France adheres to the Gaullist tradition of Europe as a mediating and “balancing” power between the great world powers. There are also differences in energy policy: France continues to support nuclear energy, while Germany is in the final phase of denuclearization.

Meanwhile, America’s massive green investment plan – the so-called Inflation Reduction Act – is hurting the competitiveness of Europeans, who are looking for joint responses. In Paris, Macron and Scholz advocated an “ambitious and swift” response that will ease red tape and lift checks on public aid in order to reindustrialize Europe with green projects.

The war has changed Europe. Germany has abandoned its energy dependence on Russia and decided to increase its military spending. As in 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the invasion of Ukraine in 2022 has reshuffled the European cards and strained the Franco-German engine. At the same time, the EU’s center of gravity is shifting eastward, and the partners geographically closest to Russia believe that time has proved them right vis-à-vis Moscow: while they were warning of the danger posed by President Vladimir Putin, Paris and Berlin were courting him.

The pressure on France, and above all on Germany, to contribute more to the Ukrainian war effort can also be viewed from this standpoint: for years they were accommodating to Putin, for months they have dragged their feet about sending arms. Now, faced with a decisive phase of the war, they can make a difference.

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