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Europe’s week: Scholz inauguration, French EU presidency and Ukraine warnings

EuropeEurope's week: Scholz inauguration, French EU presidency and Ukraine warnings

This week Olaf Scholz took his oath of office at the Bundestag on Wednesday as he became Germany’s new chancellor.

He replaced Angela Merkel, who stood down after 16 years at the helm.

The new German government – made up by the Social Democrats, Greens and liberal Free Democrats — have never governed together before.

And a host of urgent issues, including coronavirus pandemic and a more aggressive Russia could subject their alliance to immediate strain.

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier laid out the challenges facing the new government.

“In addition to major domestic policy projects, you will bear responsibility for our country’s actions in Europe and the world. Germany is not a remote island. Neither are we self-sufficient nor do we want to be. We are the centre of Europe and would do well to take into account the interests of our neighbours when measuring our own interests,” Steinmeier said on Wednesday.

Russia and Ukraine

The message comes at a moment when tensions are high between Russia and the West.

This week, in a rare video call between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin, the US President voiced concerns over Russian troop build-ups near the border with Ukraine and called for a de-escalation of tensions.

He threatened serious economic sanctions, including the potential shutdown of the controversial pipeline Nord Stream 2, not yet in operation.

“If Vladimir Putin wants to see gas flow through that pipeline, he may not want to take the risk of invading Ukraine,” a US spokesperson told journalists indicating that an agreement between the US and Germany on that has been reached.

Macron’s EU presidency speech

French President Emmanuel Macron gave a speech on Thursday laying out his priorities for when his country takes over the rotating EU Presidency during the first half of 2022.

His plan is ambitious, covering recovery from the pandemic to defense and migration.

But it was on European values where he had the strongest words.

“There are political forces at work which call into question what our European values are based on. We must therefore think about new tools, not just of sanctions, but also of encouragement and support. There is a great deal of political work to do because we must also look at the countries which are doubting the reality or the relevance of these values,” Macron said.

The French President also faces the challenge of being re-elected in April though, midway through his country’s six-month term in charge of the European Council presidency.

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