‘France loves you’ – Macron hosts Merkel for farewell visit

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday hosted outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel for a valedictory visit as she bows out after 16 years in power, with the German leader cheered by crowds and awarded France's highest honour.

Macron and Merkel embrace, watched by Merkel's husband Joachim Sauer
Macron and Merkel embrace, watched by Merkel's husband Joachim Sauer Photo: Philippe Desmazes/AFP

In a gesture of thanks to Merkel for her contribution to Franco-German relations that has seen her deal with four presidents of France, Macron treated her to a visit to the French town of Beaune in the wine-growing Bourgogne region.

Accompanied by her low-profile husband Joachim Sauer, Merkel was given an eager welcome as she and Macron dived into the crowds and fist-bumped well-wishers shouting “Angela, Bravo!”.

“Frankreich liebt Dich” (France loves you), Macron tweeted in German as he welcomed her to the town ahead of a piano recital and gourmet dinner.

She also received from Macron the Grand Cross, the highest distinction of the Legion d’Honneur, France’s chief honour.

Her predecessors including Konrad Adenauer, Willy Brandt, Helmut Kohl and Gerhard Schroeder have also received the honour.

Macron was the fourth French president Merkel has dealt with during her mandate, after Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande.

The pair are from contrasting generations, have different styles and sometimes even clashed behind the scenes on issues such as Berlin’s preference for budget austerity and Macron’s passion for a European defence strategy not dependent on the US.

But they are widely seen to have been generally effective partners, most notably jointly spearheading an unprecedented European Union rescue package to help economies weakened by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Merkel, who said she would not serve another term, is expected to leave office in the coming weeks, once a new coalition is agreed following elections won by the left-wing Social Democrats (SPD) over her own conservative Christian Democrats (CDU).

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Germany’s Schröder to remain in Social Democrats despite Putin ties

Former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will remain a member of the ruling Social Democrats (SPD), the party said Monday, finding his ties with Vladimir Putin did not breach its rules.

Germany's Schröder to remain in Social Democrats despite Putin ties

The SPD’s Hanover branch said Schröder, whose party membership falls under its umbrella, was “not guilty of a violation of the party rules, as no violation can be proven against him”.

The branch had opened a hearing in July to discuss 17 motions from local and regional chapters against Schroeder’s ongoing membership of the party.

The decision can be appealed, but legal experts say there are high hurdles for expelling members.

Schröder, chancellor from 1998 to 2005, has refused to turn his back on Putin despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

His stance has made him an embarrassment to the SPD, which is also the party of Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

READ ALSO: Germany’s Social Democrats move to dispel Schröder over Putin ties

He has also been widely criticised for holding a number of lucrative posts at Russian energy giants, and it was only after much public pressure that Schröder in May gave up his seat on the board of Russian energy group Rosneft.

He later also announced he would not be joining Gazprom’s supervisory board as initially planned.

Germany’s parliament in May removed some of the perks Schröder was entitled to as an elder statesman, stripping him of an office and staff.

Schröder, 78, who was Angela Merkel’s immediate predecessor, has remained defiant and met with Putin in Moscow in July.

In an interview after the visit, he claimed Russia wanted a “negotiated solution” to the war – comments branded as “disgusting” by Ukrainian
President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Schröder has also called on Berlin to reconsider its position on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which stands completed but was blocked by the German government in the run-up to the invasion of Ukraine.