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Macron begins the first state visit to Germany by a French president in 24 years

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BERLIN (AP) — President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday started the first state visit to Germany by a French head of state in 24 years, a three-day trip meant to underline the strong ties between the European Union’s traditional leading powers ahead of European Parliament elections in which far-right parties in both countries hope for gains.

The visit was originally meant to take place last July but was postponed at the last minute due to rioting in France following the killing of a 17-year-old by police.

While Macron is a frequent visitor to Germany as Paris and Berlin try to coordinate their positions on EU and foreign policy, this is the first state visit with full pomp since Jacques Chirac came in 2000. Macron and his wife, Brigitte, are being hosted by Germany’s largely ceremonial president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

It is “proof of the depth of the friendship between France and Germany” that Macron is visiting as Germany celebrates the 75th anniversary of its post-World War II constitution and before it marks the 35th anniversary in November of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Steinmeier said.

Steinmeier is holding a state banquet for Macron at his Bellevue palace in Berlin on Sunday evening before the two presidents travel on Monday to the eastern city of Dresden, where Macron will make a speech, and on Tuesday to Muenster in western Germany. The state visit will be followed later Tuesday by a meeting between Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and ministers from both countries at a government guest house outside Berlin.

Germany and France, which have the EU’s biggest economies, have long been viewed as the motor of European integration, though there have often been differences in policy and emphasis between the two neighbors on a range of matters.

That was evident earlier this year in different positions on whether Western countries should rule out sending ground troops to Ukraine. Both nations are strong backers of Kyiv.

Macron on Sunday said there has frequently been talk of problems in Franco-German relations over the decades, but “France and Germany together have accomplished extraordinary things — they have been at the heart of this Europe.” He contrasted that with the countries’ history of war against each other until 1945.

He renewed a warning that Europe could “die” if it fails to build its own robust defense as Russia’s war in Ukraine rages on, or if it fails to undertake major trade and economic reforms to compete with China and the U.S.

Ahead of the European Parliament elections next month, Macron said that “fear of a changing world” is feeding a rise of the far-right in Europe.

“When we let these fears transform into anger, that feeds extremes,” he said, advocating “respect” in listening to people’s worries and greater “efficiency” in dealing with their problems.

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