Scholz meets with Macron in 1st trip as German chancellor

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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, left, is welcomed by French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Friday, Dec. 10, 2021. Two days after taking office, Scholz visits the French President in Paris as well as top EU and Nato personnel in Brussels. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

PARIS – German Chancellor Olaf Scholz met with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Friday as their governments worked to de-escalate tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

The leaders held a joint news conference during Scholz's first trip abroad following his coalition government's swearing-in on Wednesday. They said they would meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy next week on the sidelines of a European Union summit in Brussels.

“We all view the situation on the Ukrainian border with concern,” Scholz said. “We’re clear that the inviolability of borders in Europe is one of the principles that all in Europe must accept for our common security … This rule goes for everyone.”

Scholz plans to go from France to Brussels to meet with EU and NATO officials. Macron said he and Russian President Vladimir Putin are scheduled to talk next week.

“Our first goal is to avoid any useless tension,” Macron said. “Our will ... Europeans and Americans, is to show that we are very vigilant about the situation, but that there must be no escalation, in any way.”

U.S. President Joe Biden this week moved to take a more direct role in diplomacy between Ukraine and Russia. In recent years, France and Germany have played mediator roles in the conflict.

Biden has pressed Putin to pull back a massive Russian troop buildup near Ukraine's border that has created growing concern in Washington and European capitals, as well as in Ukraine itself.

Macron spoke with Zelenskyy over the phone on Friday, and said France and Germany are determined to preserve Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, according to a statement from the French presidency.

Macron and Scholz discussed other bilateral and European issues Friday, including the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Macron has made boosting growth and jobs a priority of France's upcoming six-month EU presidency, which starts in January.

Scholz, who was previously Germany’s finance minister, noted that he and Macron both have tried to show “what is possible in Europe when we work together." Europe’s 750 billion-euro ($846 billion) pandemic recovery fund “is an emphatic symbol of the possibilities connected with this,” he said.

“And so I am very confident that we can solve the tasks that lie ahead of us — this is about continuing to make possible and maintain the growth that we set on track with the recovery fund, and at the same time providing for solid finances,” Scholz said.

Scholz, a 63-year-old center-left politician, became Germany’s ninth post-World War II chancellor this week, opening a new era for the EU’s most populous nation and largest economy after Angela Merkel’s 16-year tenure.

His government is composed of a coalition of his center-left Social Democrats, the environmentalist Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats.

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Moulson contributed from Berlin, Germany