The summit takes place as France braces for a disruptive nationwide strike over a controversial pension reform drive, battening down the hatches for a “hellish” day of protest over plans to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.
After talks at the National Art Museum of Catalonia, the two leaders will sign a friendship and cooperation treaty reinforcing bilateral ties on issues such as migration, defence and energy.
With the treaty, Paris is seeking to cement stronger ties with neighbours other than Germany, notably those in southern Europe, at a moment when the Paris-Berlin alliance underpinning EU unity is showing signs of strain.
But Macron’s main aim is to seek “a joint position with Madrid” over Europe’s response to Washington’s landmark Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), a massive investment plan to accelerate the US transition to green energy.
Europe fears the plan, which will pour billions of dollars into climate-friendly technologies, will distort transatlantic trade to give American companies an unfair advantage.
Macron, who bluntly denounced the subsidies as “super aggressive” on a visit to Washington in November, wants Brussels to quickly follow suit to avoid a flight of European companies relocating to take advantage of the US subsidies.
But so far, EU nations have been divided on how to respond to the IRA, with Macron’s hard-ball approach gaining little traction in Spain.
Divisions in Europe
Speaking to CNBC earlier this week, Sánchez admitted Europe had “some homework to do”, notably rethinking its own subsidies policy “to send a message to industry worldwide that Europe – and of course, Spain – is a good place” to invest.
The French leader is also hoping to enlist Olaf Scholz to his position, although the German chancellor has so far appeared more inclined towards dialogue than dispute with Washington.
Scholz is expected in Paris on Sunday to mark 60 years since the signing of a Franco-German post-war friendship treaty.
The Macron-Sánchez summit comes just three months after Paris, Madrid and Lisbon agreed to build a massive underwater hydrogen pipeline connecting Barcelona and Marseille that will be key for the EU’s energy independence.
Barcelona was chosen to host the summit because “it will be at the heart of this strategic project”, said Spanish government spokeswoman Isabel Rodríguez of the H2Med pipeline, also known as BarMar.
Madrid also wants to show that the situation in the northeastern Catalonia region has normalised since 2017 when separatists there staged a failed independence bid, triggering Spain’s biggest political crisis in decades.
But pro-independence groups have promised to hit the streets en masse to protest at the summit being held there.