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POLITICS

Macron and Scholz enjoy ‘friendly’ lunch after tensions between France and Germany

French President Emmanuel Macron hosted German Chancellor Olaf Scholz for lunch on Wednesday, with both sides saying they made progress towards easing differences on energy and defence dogging the European Union's vital double act.

Macron and Scholz enjoy 'friendly' lunch after tensions between France and Germany
France's President Emmanuel Macron hosted German Chancellor Olaf Scholz for lunch in Paris on Wednesday. Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP

The two leaders were “of one mind on the major directions” of policy, a German diplomatic source said after the meeting, while a source in the French presidency called it “very constructive”.

“Today was a very good and important conversation on European energy supply, rising prices and joint arms projects,” Scholz tweeted.

“Germany and France stand close together and are tackling challenges jointly”.

Macron and Scholz were at pains to put on a show of friendliness as Scholz climbed out of his black Mercedes on arrival, with both smiling and shaking hands.

The pair spoke for around an hour longer than planned, including a one-on-one session without advisers.

The German source said they discussed issues including “European energy policy, national energy policies, economic development, defence, space and foreign policy”.

Meanwhile the French presidency said the talks were “in a spirit of very close cooperation for the medium- and long-term”.

But Macron and Scholz did not appear before journalists to announce any joint decisions or take questions.

Recent weeks had seen growing signs of discord between Berlin and Paris, under pressure from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its knock-on effects especially on energy markets.

Berlin’s move to spend up to €200 billion subsidising soaring gas prices and refusal to consider an EU-wide energy price cap nettled Paris and other European capitals, who fear the effect on their energy costs.

On defence, France is rattled by German plans for a shared missile shield with other NATO nations using American equipment, while longer-term projects to jointly develop new fighter jets and tanks appear stalled.

A big-spending “new era” of German defence policy announced by Scholz following the Russian attack has not translated into major contracts within Europe, especially for French firms as Macron hoped.

Wednesday’s meeting came instead of a postponed joint cabinet meeting between Paris and Berlin, which would have been Scholz’s first as chancellor.

So far, the German leader – in office for less than a year – has not developed the same warmth with Macron as his predecessor Angela Merkel, who “texted every day”, one French diplomatic source said ahead of the talks.

Strained ties between the EU’s two largest and most populous economies – in the past often the brokers of compromise among the bloc’s 27 members – have come at exactly the wrong time.

Russia’s invasion and the resulting disruption to the energy system have coincided with rising tensions between China and the West, as well as fears that more isolationist forces could return to power in Washington.

Berlin and Paris also differ on how to make the EU more agile faced with the new challenges, and how quickly to admit new members.

Macron warned that “both of us, together with the EU as a whole, are confronted with one of the biggest, furthest-reaching crises ever experienced by Europe,” with “a lot of work ahead,” the German diplomatic source said.

“Agreement between France and Germany is not sufficient, because everyone else has to agree, but it is necessary,” said Stephane Dion, Canadian ambassador to France and former envoy to Germany.

“They remain the motor of Europe. For Europe to work, that motor has to work,” he added.

France’s Europe minister Laurence Boone told the Senate Wednesday that the two countries should aim to resolve their differences “by the 60th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty” on January 22nd.

Signed by post-war leaders Charles De Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer, the pact forms the foundations of French-German cooperation.

For now the two sides have agreed to set up “working groups… that will have the two governments working closely together towards the next steps in the coming days,” the Elysée said.

The groups cover topics including defence and security, energy and innovation, the German source said.

Macron and Scholz also agreed to talk “before and after” the German leader’s upcoming visit to China and the French president’s visit to the US, the German source said.

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POLITICS

Germany’s homegrown cannabis industry awaits legalisation

In the east German countryside, close to Dresden, a former abattoir is now home to the biggest indoor cannabis farm in Europe.

Germany's homegrown cannabis industry awaits legalisation

Behind the recently renovated concrete walls, the German startup Demecan has been growing marijuana in accordance with the law for the past year.

The company is one of only a handful in Germany to have a license for the production of this “green gold”, which has been legal in Germany for medicinal use since 2017.

But the budding industry is eyeing a bigger prize: Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government plans to legalise the drug for recreational use as soon as 2024, which would leave it with one of the most liberal cannabis policies in Europe.

READ ALSO: Germany agrees on plan to ‘legalise recreational cannabis’

‘Tenfold’

Inside the building, the smell of the plants — lined up in their hundreds under yellow grow lamps — is overwhelming.

“We will have the option to expand the facility to cultivate recreational cannabis,” Demecan’s managing director Philipp Goebel tells AFP.

The government coalition, led by Scholz’s Social Democrats, has put forward a roadmap for the legalisation of cannabis with a target date of 2024.

Under the draft plans, adults would be allowed to hold a maximum of between “20 and 30 grams” of cannabis for private consumption, via a network of licensed stores and pharmacies.

Demecan’s massive complex, which covers around 120,000 square metres, produces one tonne of cannabis a year, but it has yet to reach capacity.

The company could quickly increase production “tenfold” to meet growing demand, Goebel says.

Harvests at the farm happen every two weeks with workers plucking the flowers from the plant stems before they are dried.

“I like this job a lot, it is not like any other,” says 34-year-old Sven

Skoeries, who studies horticulture alongside his responsibilities at the farm.

Demecan has no trouble recruiting for its growing business, in a region otherwise marked by its ageing population and lack of workers.

“It’s a trendy product that generates a lot of interest,” Goebel says.

“It’s a new industry, that’s interesting for me,” says Jana Kleinschmidt, 25, as she snips off leaves with a pair of scissors.

As well as its own production efforts, Demecan has a license for the import of another 20 tonnes of cannabis into the country from Canada annually.

“We are currently supplying 55 percent of the German market,” says Goebel, who notes his firm is in “pole position” to capitalise on legalisation.

The Domecan campus, pictured in March 2022. picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

Snoop Dogg

The recreational cannabis market in Germany is a potential four-billion-euro business, according to a recent study by the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf.

In recent months, fundraising in the sector has taken off as businesses await the green light from legislators.

Berlin startup Cantourage, a manufacturer of cannabis-based medicines, floated 15 percent of its shares on the Frankfurt stock exchange in November.

Cansativa, the only online platform for the sale of therapeutic cannabis products in Germany, raised $15 million in February with the help of US rapper Snoop Dogg.

Sanity Group, a German company that focuses on cannabis-derived products, likewise raised $37.6 million in September.

Legalisation looks like a good deal for the government, too. The same study from Heinrich Heine University estimated the move would boost the public finances by €4.7 billion per year.

But the idea remains controversial.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany sets out plans for cannabis legalisation

At the end of October, Klaus Reinhardt, the head of the German Medical Association, called the plans “almost cynical”.

It was “shocking” to legalise a substance that could “lead to behavioural problems in adolescents, as well as addiction and psychological changes”, he said. The conservative opposition to the government has also set itself against the move.

The Bavarian state Health Minister Klaus Holetschek, who is part of the conservative Christian Social Union party, called the idea “a dangerous signal for all of Europe”.

First, however, the government’s plans need to be approved by the European Commission — or they risk going up in smoke.

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