French President Emmanuel Macron, right, talks with Spanish counterpart Pedro Sanchez in Barcelona (Emilio Morenatti/AP)
19 January 2023

Spanish and French leaders meet to sign friendship treaty

19 January 2023

French President Emmanuel Macron is meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to strengthen relations between the European neighbours by signing a friendship treaty.

The one-day summit in Barcelona comes amid a day of widespread strikes and protests on the other side of the Pyrenees against Mr Macron’s bid to increase the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64.

Mr Sanchez and Mr Macron will sign a Treaty of Friendship and Co-operation between their countries.

Both governments consider this a diplomatic bond of the highest order.

Spain only has a similar treaty with Portugal; France has them with Germany and Italy.

The leaders are seeking stronger positions inside the European Union.

Mr Macron is profiling himself as the continent’s leading politician to fill the void of former German chancellor Angela Merkel, while Mr Sanchez wants Spain to have a more influential role in Brussels following the United Kingdom’s exit from the bloc.

After years of cordial but sometimes distant relations between France and Spain, the two have grown closer recently.

Spain, France and Portugal have agreed on a major undersea pipeline to transport hydrogen from the Iberian Peninsula to France and eventually the rest of Europe.

The pipeline, dubbed H2Med, will run from Barcelona to Marseille.

Mr Macron and Mr Sanchez also both want the European energy market to be reformed to respond to the energy crisis provoked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The meeting is being held in Catalonia’s National Art Museum, perched atop the Montjuic hill overlooking Barcelona.

Several thousand Catalan separatists are rallying outside to try to energise their flagging movement to carve a new state out of the corner of north-east Spain bordering France.

The sound of distant jeers could be heard from afar as Mr Macron and Mr Sanchez reviewed Spanish soldiers before the national anthems were played on arrival.

North of Barcelona, protesters disrupted traffic on a motorway.

Mr Sanchez has spent quite a bit of political capital in defusing the separatist movement, with pardons for imprisoned leaders of a failed 2017 secession bid and recent legal reforms.

While that has succeeded in reducing tensions in Catalonia, there is still a hardcore group refusing to go away.

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