BERLIN — Emmanuel Macron: French president, statesman and, er, German speaker.
Macron impressed and surprised mourners in the German parliament on Monday by delivering a eulogy for Wolfgang Schäuble predominantly in German — for which he needed just a few hours of practice, according to his German teacher.
The French president had been invited to the Bundestag to commemorate Schäuble, the former German finance minister who passed away in late December at the age of 81. Schäuble, who was frequently in touch with Macron, had asked for the French leader to speak as part of the mourning ceremony.
So Macron used the opportunity to do something French presidents do exceedingly rarely: Address a German audience in German (the last time was Charles de Gaulle in Ludwigsburg in 1962).
“Germany has lost a statesman. Europe has lost a pillar. France has lost a friend,” Macron said during his 15-minute speech, which visibly moved Schäuble’s wife Ingeborg, who had tears in her eyes.
Macron, who had previously uttered only a few words of German in public, may have read from a manuscript, but his pronunciation was competent. What’s more, the president had practiced only briefly, said Frank Groninger, a teacher of German language and culture at the French foreign ministry who trained Macron.
“We practiced for about an hour and a half yesterday and then again this morning for about an hour before the flight to Berlin. We then went again through some details of the speech on board the plane,” Groninger told POLITICO in a telephone interview.
Groninger said Macron had “some prior knowledge” of the language, having studied it at school and university. He had also practiced with the president in preparation for a state visit to Germany last July, which was canceled due to protests in France. “So we only had to work on the finer details.”
The teacher added: “The aim was to surprise people. You may have noticed that there was the emotional part of the speech and the technical part. And the idea was to make the emotional part in German so that it would be even stronger and to really show this gesture, that the president is making the effort to give the speech in German.”
The gesture of Franco-German friendship was amplified by the fact the ceremony was held on January 22, exactly five years after the Aachen treaty to reinforce cooperation between Paris and Berlin, and exactly 61 years after the Elysée treaty, a symbolic post-war accord aimed at burying centuries of enmity between the two countries.
Macron had been a “good student” who learned quickly, said Groninger, 53, who was born in Germany but acquired French nationality six years ago. “Without wanting to make too many compliments … He’s someone who absorbs everything and memorizes things very quickly.”
Asked if he had also taught the heartfelt and emotional Macron how better to understand Germany’s cool and reserved Chancellor Olaf Scholz, with whom the French president has repeatedly clashed and even canceled a joint press conference in 2022, Groninger laughed.
“That wasn’t part of the training now, there was far too little time for that. The president’s schedule is very busy,” he said. “I think there is still a lot that could be done.”
Groninger argued that the ball is now in Scholz’s court to show his own commitment to Franco-German relations and practice his French, which has room for improvement.
“It’s now up to Germany to find a teacher for Scholz. France has done its part.”