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[Analysis] A difficult Franco-German relationship. An Alliance of opposites necessary for Europe

(B2) The cancellation of the Franco-German council of ministers, planned first in July, then in Fontainebleau, on October 19 illustrates a difficult relationship since the arrival of a tricolor coalition in Germany and Emmanuel's second mandate Macron.

Symbolic image of the Franco-German couple: a Frenchman who speaks, leads the debate; a German looking aside smiling, pleased with himself. And between the two often an intermediary (here the Dutchman Mark Rutte) (Photo: Council of the European Union)

A personal alchemy that does not take

Between an Olaf Scholz – who is struggling to exist on the European scene but is holding his own despite everything – and an Emmanuel Macron – a political troublemaker and more presidential than ever – the flow is not flowing (1). And not even at all! There is little personal chemistry, and not even the minimal respect like between an Angela Merkel and a Nicolas Sarkozy or a François Hollande.

A dichotomy on the war in Ukraine

A sign of the times, in the midst of tension between Russia and Ukraine, the two leaders failed to go together to kyiv and Moscow at the beginning of February (read also: Russian war in Ukraine. Emmanuel Macron has lost his touch. The French quadruple failure explained). It was thus necessary to wait four months, between the two rounds of the French legislative elections, for the two leaders to go together to kyiv, with the Italian Mario Draghi (2). A situation that contrasts with the past (3).

A different tempo and political system

In Berlin, a coalition of Social Democrats, Liberals and Greens governs. At the end of a contract which sets in stone all the elements of the policy. Faced with unforeseen events, the coalition falters, the political line fluctuates according to government decisions. But she doesn't break up. In Paris, Emmanuel Macron's power appears intact. Apparently solid, it was weakened by the last elections and is in the minority in parliament because it was not able to conclude a government agreement. The specter of a dissolution during the mandate looms… not really enough to reassure a German government.

Major differences on the economy and energy

Basically, too, everything divides or almost. The energy “mix” is not the same, based on nuclear power in France, while it is based on gas, coal and alternative energies in Germany. Berlin has put on the table a 200 billion plan to support its economy, which no one in the European Union can follow. But he refuses the equivalent to the European plan financed by debt. The Latins, with French support, want to cap energy prices. Germany, at the head of a group, refuses, for fear of seeing energy sobriety disappear. France does not want to tax superprofits because it is contrary to the pro-business spirit of Emmanuel Macron. This subject divides the coalition in Berlin. Etc., etc.

A common defense in pieces

On the defense side, the differences are evident. Germany has decided to reinject €100 billion into its defense. And, with its industrial tradition, no longer wants to be counted out by its French neighbor. Most of the jointly developed industrial projects are wrecked, from the maritime patrol plane, which disappeared from radar, to the tank project, which is stuck in the mud. The plane of the future (SCAF) is struggling to take off. But it is above all at the structural level that the differences assert themselves. An unspoken balance between France and Germany is about to be broken (read: [Decryption] At the heart of the Franco-German crisis, Defense)

The Alliance of Opposites mandatory for Europe

However, the Franco-German couple or tandem, this “alliance of opposites” (3) constitutes a key element of European policy. When France and Germany no longer understand each other or no longer get along, especially on economic issues (or energy today). And the European machine is seizing up. It has always been like this, remembers an old hand at European summits, Luxembourger Jim Cloos, former senior European official. And no alternative has ever emerged. Everyone who has tried to build has failed. Because when the two capitals agree, “ everyone finds themselves there in Europe ».

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

  1. The structural differences are known: single state versus federation of states, presidential regime versus parliamentary regime, single majority versus political coalition, agricultural country with large state enterprises versus industrial country with a strong network of SMEs, country without fear of the debt against a country which prohibits it, etc. etc. the differences are not minor.
  2. The Franco-Italian couple appeared more united than the Franco-German couple. The photo published between the three leaders on the train is eloquent. We see Macron and Draghi shoulder to shoulder, in a complicity that is not feigned, facing a more distant Scholz.
  3. In 2008, at the NATO summit in Bucharest, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy jointly blocked the rapid accession of Georgia and Ukraine to NATO. In 2014, at the height of the Maidan riots, the heads of French (L. Fabius), German (F.-W. Steinmeier) and Polish (R. Sikorski) diplomacy were together in kyiv to negotiate with Yanukovich. The Merkel-Hollande couple then took charge of the Russian-Ukrainian negotiation process (read our file No. 51. The Minsk agreements. The Normandy format negotiation between Russia and Ukraine).

Enriched version of an article published in Sud-Ouest on October 21

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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