Gabriel Attal made his first visit abroad on Monday to Germany. His meeting with Chancellor Olaf Scholz revealed their first disagreements.

The French and German heads of government met on Monday February 5 for the first time since Gabriel Attal took office at Matignon. They spoke one-on-one for 30 minutes before providing a report of their exchange. They were unable to hide their differences, in particular on a central topic in the news: European negotiations around a free trade agreement with the Mercosur countries.

“Germany is a country which is very attached to free trade, reiterated Olaf Scholz, fervent defender of the treaty. “I think we all agree that we need such agreements, because they have a great geostrategic importance,” he said.

“The negotiations with the Mercosur countries have been underway for 20 years already, it is not so surprising that we have the feeling that they must succeed,” he pressed. He indirectly deplored France’s position, deeming it “unacceptable” to complain about the EU’s loss of influence in the world while depriving itself of “the means to improve our continent’s prospects for economic growth through good forms of cooperation, including in economic relations.”

For his part, Gabriel Attal did not back down and reiterated France’s opposition to signing the agreement as is, repeating that the “conditions” were “not met”. “Sorry, but mirror clauses are simply common sense,” he defended himself, before calming things down: “It may happen that on certain subjects, we do not agree. But we assume it and we recognize it, it’s part of the dialogue we have between us. ‘We agree to disagree’, as they say.”

The young Prime Minister warned against “the breach of division” between their two countries, adding: “It is the one that the populists are waiting for, the one on which the extremes feed, watching for the slightest of our differences to flatter the baser instincts and attempt to scuttle Europe.”