Blog AnalysisNational Defense

[Analysis] A shot of firedamp on the Franco-German couple with deeper roots

(B2) The months pass. And the Franco-German couple is still skating. On a key question: defense. The meeting of Ministers Lecornu and Pistorius, today in Évreux, will undoubtedly be able to iron out some temporary difficulties. But it will not be enough to revitalize a difficult relationship. From partners, Paris and Berlin, have become rivals. The challenge: European leadership in this area.

The Germans were present during the evacuation in Sudan, but in a second phase (Photo: Bundeswehr)

Cascading failures

Between the joint renovation of the Tiger helicopters, which was stopped, and the maritime patrol aircraft project, which was aborted, the list of projects interrupted in recent years is now longer than those started. The reality is cruel: of the four projects defined five years ago, at the Meseberg summit, only one has been launched: the SCAF. Not without difficulties. And still without certainty about its outcome (1).

A becalming revealing a blockage

As for the last one, the tank system of the future, aka MGCS, it is becalmed. We can ask ourselves if the German project to prepare the successor to the current Leopard tank buries the common project or, on the contrary, puts pressure on it? One being in the short term, by 2030, the other in the longer term, by 2040 (read: [News] MBT versus MGCS. What are the repercussions on Franco-German cooperation?). Never mind. What is interesting is to see that in one or other of the projects, it is not France, but Germany which is at the heart of the projects.

A Germany more unifying than France

Ditto for the anti-missile shield launched by Germany. Presented in fall 2022, the European Sky Shield (ESSI) initiative brings people together. To the fifteen starting countries, four others were added: Denmark, Sweden in February, then Austria and Switzerland in July (cf.Notebook 04.07.2023). And step by step, the project takes shape. A contract has just been signed a few days ago between Germans and Balts (cf. Booklet 14.09.2023) . The French can storm well (read: [News] Air defense: Emmanuel Macron destroys the German approach without proposing a concrete alternative), the project is inevitably moving forward. Here again Germany is at the center of the game. France, on the sidelines.

A rearmament in progress

We are witnessing a major shift in political direction in Germany. Provided it is sustained over time - which is not yet assured at this stage - this change could reconfigure the map of strategic Europe. For now, Germany is determined to rearm and equip itself and is making it known loud and clear. The time of procrastination on defense, big declarations in Berlin followed by little effect (read: Defense. Germany talks a lot and does little. Why ?) seems finished. Of course it's slow, and sometimes stammering.

A German slowness which should not create an illusion

All the promises of massive reinvestment – ​​the famous 100 billion fund – have not yet been kept. And no one knows what will happen when it expires. The defense budget still remains burdened by personnel, social and health expenditure. But, with the annual share of the exceptional envelope, it should reach a whopping 2024 billion euros by 71, with no less than 19 billion devoted to equipment. Compared to the 47 billion euros of the French budget, we have a budget gap of almost 25 billion euros (nearly 30 billion if we add nuclear power to which Germany is not subject).

A double threat to Germany

The Germans did not suddenly rediscover geopolitics and military tools. They don't really want to have a clean defense. But the context has changed. And Germany, worried, adapts. A central European country, it must guard itself on both sides. On its western flank, Germany is worried (without saying it openly) about a Trumpist return or its avatar who wants to attack NATO. An Atlantic Alliance which remains in Berlin the alpha and omega of collective defense. On its eastern flank, the stability acquired since the end of the Second World War, with the Berlin Wall, then without the Berlin Wall, is today threatened, lastingly, by an aggressive Russia.

Russian aggression that scares

Spying on the Bundestag, the assassination in the heart of Berlin of an opponent (read: [Decryption] The GU (formerly GRU). A hyperactive Russian interference), the Navalny affair, etc. gradually nourished this concern. Russia's brutal offensive on Ukraine was the tipping point. From a partner, Russia has become a threat, even an adversary. Then, sanctions against Russia begin. The gas pipeline Nordstream is suspended. Military support for Ukraine is growing, to the point of making Germany, previously hostile to exporting arms to a country at war, the second largest supporter of Ukraine, behind the United States.

A turning point that we must be aware of

These changes are often minimized in France. Just as there is little awareness of the revolution underway in the German relationship with defense. While in the past, Germany was ready to step aside behind French leadership, this is no longer the case today. Olaf Scholz's Germany no longer seems (at all) willing to let its conduct be dictated and is playing its personal card and that of European leader. If in operational matters, Berlin remains cautious in its military commitments, reluctant to advance first or in an adventurous manner as France knows how to do (2), it does not have its pruderies in the field of territorial defense, the defense industry and defense policy on a European scale. Emmanuel Macron's France neither saw this development coming nor managed to adapt to it. Does she even understand the issues?

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde, with OJ)

  1. It's no secret that at Dassault, one of the main players in the project (with Airbus), we could see ourselves leading the project alone (around the Rafale F5).
  2. An adventurist attitude of which Berlin is increasingly wary. Libya's intervention is remembered. The warlike attitude in the Sahel, and very recently in Niger, augurs a deeper schism. Germany, positioned in a strategy of economic and political influence, particularly in West Africa, prefers soft power.

Read also:

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).

Leave comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

This site uses Akismet to reduce unwanted. Learn more about how your comments data is used.