S a swearing-in as new Foreign Minister is just six hours back, the transfer in the Foreign Office three hours, as Heiko Maas (SPD) on Wednesday evening, the Bundeswehr Airbus A 319 leaves and enters French soil. Inaugural visit to Paris. That would hardly have been possible sooner. The pace is carefully chosen, it should symbolize: Now it starts. The tenacious formation of a government in Berlin is complete. Now they act. German-French initiatives are to be taken. Berlin finally wants to pick up the proposals of President Emmanuel Macron.
Just now, Maas has completed the first cabinet meeting in Berlin. Now the Foreign Minister is being driven from the airport to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs with blue light and high speed, to the legendary Quai d'Orsay. On the first floor, in the splendid Salon Napoléon III, Jean-Yves Le Drian receives his guest. They talk to each other briefly, then there are press statements, then the two men and their delegations retire to dinner.
Le Drian, 70, has been Foreign Minister for three quarters of a year. Only a few days ago he caused a bang – and stepped out of the already battered Socialist Party. Heiko Maas, 51, has now brought it to the foreign minister for the plucked SPD. While Le Drian's interest in the subject of Europe is limited, Maas sees himself as a European of origin and heart, as he expressed it only on Wednesday afternoon during his inaugural address. The affection for France is part of his identity for the Saarland Maas. From his hometown of Saarlouis, Paris is much closer than Berlin. By train you need two and a half hours from Saarlouis to the Seine – seven to the Spree.
Heiko Maas: Macron's outstretched hand to seize
During her press statement, Le Drian points out that at Maas' Visit was an "immediate journey", both countries had to deny all sorts of things. He mentions the relationship with Russia in the first place, then he enumerates: the situation in Syria and Iran, relations with the US, the renewal of the Elysée Treaty on Franco-German cooperation, Brexit, Ukraine and the future of the EU , An "efficient" cooperation is what Le Drian hopes for – a very apt description of all these issues.
And Maas? The Federal Foreign Minister, who has been politically active for the longest time of his career in the small Saarland, stands in front of numerous cameras in the hall, which is held in gold under a huge chandelier. Unless he initially mentioned that the ink under his certificate of appointment was "not yet dry," he looks like he has been a senior diplomat for years. Maas's appearance comes routinely, but without exhausting himself in technocratic rhetoric.
Macron's outstretched hand should be seized to finally discuss the proposals for a "renewal of Europe," says Maas. It took a long time for Germany to form a government, "we have little time," he says, evoking a "Franco-German dynamic". Maas knows that the time window is quite short, as early as June 2019 is the European elections. You do not have much more than a year to go forward. Of the various resistance among several EU member states against the – so far only summoned – "new Franco-German dynamics" quite apart.
Maas speaks to his counterpart, who could be from the age of his father by the first name, so is it is common among foreign ministers in Berlin and Paris. In addition to the topics mentioned by "Yves", Maas mentions migration, the Common Foreign and Security Policy. As in his inaugural address, Maas speaks clearly about the situation in Ukraine. "The conflict in Donbass will remain one of the major foreign policy priorities for both of us," he says. "Our support for territorial integrity remains unshakable." With this clear attitude, Maas emancipates himself from his predecessor Sigmar Gabriel (SPD), who always had again suggested the withdrawal of EU sanctions against Russia. Maas says nothing like that. His first meeting with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov could be interesting.
Maas responds cloudily as Steinmeier once did
Just as Maas talks about Syria on Resolution 2401, "which must finally be implemented" or, with regard to Iran, the meaning of the "Vienna Nuclear Agreement", it appears like an old hand of foreign policy. The sometimes necessary formulation of commonplaces, as mastered by Hans-Dietrich Genscher (FDP) and Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) in perfection, succeeds Maas already quite well. Responding to differences between the SPD and Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) in terms of a communitarization of debt liability, he answers cloudy as once Steinmeier. The coalition agreement is "very pro-European," says Maas, the positions are not yet formulated. And, of course, it needs a "Franco-German dynamic".
Already on Friday, Merkel and Vice Chancellor, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD), want to travel to Paris. Maas does not want to anticipate this, does not create facts. He probably knows that his team with the somewhat stiff-looking Le Drian will hardly personify that "dynamic". Apart from Merkel and Macron's claim to power,
By the way, Maas will travel east that Friday, to Warsaw. The German-Polish relations are battered, the national-conservative government in Poland and the EU are in constant noise. The visit to Warsaw will be more of a challenge for the new German Foreign Minister than the flying visit to Paris. He also wants to travel to Israel soon. And one day, Maas will also want to go to the inaugural visit to the US. Washington needs a new Foreign Minister. Until then, Maas can still collect diplomatic experience on the other side of the Atlantic.