French President Emmanuel Macron and Spain's Pedro Sanchez on Thursday joined forces to call for a "proactive" European response to a brewing trade dispute with Washington over alleged protectionism.
Speaking in Barcelona following a Franco-Spanish summit, the two leaders said they had reached a common position on how to respond to Washington's massive investment plan to accelerate the US transition to green energy.
"We are both aware of the fact that we need to react in a very proactive way" to Washington's so-called Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), Macron said after signing a friendship treaty with the Spanish prime minister.
Europe fears that the plan, which will pour billions of dollars into climate-friendly technologies, will distort transatlantic trade to give American companies an unfair advantage.
"Europe is facing a critical moment because of the (Ukraine) war, but also because of trade decisions being taken by Europe's allies such as the United States," said Sanchez.
While Europe welcomed Washington's shift towards green energy, "we have to reach an agreement in which this commitment... does not mean the deindustrialisation of Europe," the Spanish leader said.
Macron, who has branded Washington's plan as "super aggressive", wants Brussels to follow suit with a similar initiative to avoid a flight of European companies relocating to take advantage of the US subsidies.
Seeking Madrid's support for his stance was a central aim of Macron's Barcelona visit. He will meet German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Sunday to drum up further backing.
- Macron defends pension reform -
The high-profile meeting took place as France was gripped by nationwide strikes and protests over a controversial pension reform drive in which Macron's government is seeking to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.
Speaking during a joint news conference with Sanchez at the end of the summit, Macron said he hoped the demonstrations would take place "without excesses, violence or destruction". The deeply unpopular reform was "democratically proposed and approved", he insisted.
And he stressed the "determination" of his government to ensure that the reform was implemented in a way that was "above all fair and responsible".
Amid warnings of a "hellish" day of protest and fears the mass mobilisation could turn ugly, the interior ministry said it had deployed 10,000 police officers across the country, more than a third of them in Paris.
With tens of thousands of protesters marching in the streets and strikes that have disrupted public transport and shuttered schools across France, organisers are hoping the pressure will force the government to back down.
- Treaty of friendship -
Earlier Thursday, Macron and Sanchez held talks at the National Art Museum of Catalonia and signed 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.
The Macron-Sanchez 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 as the venue for its importance to the hydrogen project, but also because Madrid wanted to show the situation in the Catalonia region had normalised since separatists there staged a failed independence bid in 2017.
But more than 6,000 pro-independence protesters rallied outside the museum on Thursday, shouting "Independence!" and waving separatist flags, police and an AFP correspondent said.
"The Spanish government wanted to show they've beaten us and that we've given up on independence. But this is to show them that we haven't given up on anything," David Garcia, a 52-year-old economist, told AFP.