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STOCKHOLM: French President Emmanuel Macron begins a two-day state visit to Sweden on Tuesday, with the Nordic country on the cusp of becoming a NATO member following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Macron left for Stockholm on Monday evening, just as angry French farmers began to set up blockades around Paris.

In recent weeks, a slew of protests have rocked the European Union’s biggest agricultural producer, with farmers demanding better pay and a relaxation of environmental policies they say undermine their ability to compete with less stringent countries.

Images of tractors blocking motorways leading to the French capital will offer a sharp contrast to the pomp and circumstance of the receptions and banquets hosted in the Swedish capital by King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia.

Macron is due to speak in Stockholm on Tuesday at a press conference with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, just before his Prime Minister Gabriel Attal presents his general policy statement to the French parliament.

European defence will be a key topic during Macron and Kristersson’s meeting, which takes place as the war in Ukraine nears its third year.

“Renewed threats on the European continent are leading Sweden and France to take concrete steps to strengthen our defence ties. Both through our countries’ strong defence industries and by becoming NATO allies as soon as possible,” Macron and Kristersson wrote in articles published in newspapers Les Echos and Dagens Nyheter.

France’s Macron arrives in India for two-day visit: AFP

Sweden dropped two centuries of military non-alignment and applied for NATO membership in 2022 in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

After more than a year of delays, Turkey’s parliament ratified Sweden’s bid last week, leaving Hungary the lone holdout.

NATO membership applications require unanimous ratification by all alliance members.

Kristersson is expected to discuss the issue with his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban in Brussels on Thursday, on the sidelines of a European Council meeting.

Macron, who will visit Ukraine in February, is set to address defence issues in a speech on Tuesday afternoon to Swedish officers at the Military Academy Karlberg.

France and Sweden are due to sign a declaration of intent on air defence and air surveillance systems, while arms companies Saab and MBDA are expected to agree on a contract on the development of the Akeron anti-tank missile “in the next few days”, according to government officials.

The two leaders will also sign a new bilateral strategic partnership, according to the French presidency.

Macron will then head to the southern Swedish town of Lund on Wednesday for, among other things, a visit to the under-construction European Spallation Source (ESS), a scientific neutron research centre co-financed by France and 12 other European countries.

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