German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron are due to meet in Paris after signs emerged of a deepening rift between the two countries.
A Franco-German ministerial meeting, long scheduled for this week, was pushed back to next January on short notice.
The Elysee Palace was quick to attribute the move to scheduling difficulties by several ministers and a lack of time to prepare for the meeting. “The delay gives no indication of the current state of the Franco-German relationship,” a spokeswoman told reporters last week, adding that in fact it was only a delay and not a cancellation.
But his statement, and then German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s hastily scheduled visit to Paris on Wednesday, failed to convince analysts.
The German-French alliance is often described as “the engine” of the European Union and analysts say the ongoing dispute is undermining the EU’s ability to act.
“The Franco-German ministerial meeting in general does not yield many concrete results, apart from non-essential decisions, such as the creation of common language courses, and it is an occasion to reiterate the commitment of the two countries to close cooperation,” Stefan said. Seidendorf, deputy director of the Ludwigsburg-based think tank, the German-Franco Institute, or DFI, said.
“But these meetings and Franco-German cooperation are vital to the functioning of the EU, and not since the first in 1963 has a meeting been cancelled,” he told DW.
Seidendorf explained that what works for the United States in foreign policy does not work in Europe. The United States assumes that it can act alone, since it is large enough that other countries see its actions as an example to follow.
“But no European country is big enough to guarantee political stability on its own and we need a fundamental consensus between France and Germany, the two largest economies in the bloc, which also represent the two most divergent points of view. Other member states align with that commitment,” Seidendorf said. he pointed
France and Germany both going it alone
Currently, however, both Germany and France seem to prefer to forge their own independent paths.
Berlin recently approved an emergency package of 200 billion euros ($197 billion) to help against rising gas and electricity prices in the country, without informing France. That would have been common courtesy, especially since such an amount is likely to distort the market.
Moreover, in a recent NATO meetingGermany signed an agreement with 14 other NATO countries and Finland in a new air defense system called the European Sky Shield Initiative, or ESSI. The initiative aims to create a joint air defense program on the continent. But France was not included.
This is despite the fact that France is already developing the so-called Mamba airborne missile defense shield together with Italy.
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February this year, military defense has gained new importance.
Meanwhile, at the EU Heads of State and Government Summit last week, French President Emmanuel Macron announced an agreement with Spain and Portugal to build a new gas pipeline and hydrogen between Barcelona and Marseille. That project buries the so-called Midcat pipeline that would have linked Spain with France through the Pyrenees. Berlin preferred this pipeline, probably in the hope that Germany would eventually also benefit from Iberian gas.
The French president also directly attacked his supposed ally. “It’s not good for Germany or Europe for Germany to isolate itself,” he said.
There’s no time to be in a bad mood
“Both sides are irritated with each other,” Seidendorf said.
“Germany seems to think that it can reach multilateral deals with other small countries and bypass France. And France is still waiting for Germany to accept Macron’s promise of deeper European integration that he made during his Sorbonne University speech in 2017.” said the political scientist. additional. At the time, the French president advocated a budget for the entire eurozone and greater military and fiscal cooperation, among other things.
But Sophie Pornschlegel, senior policy analyst at the Brussels-based think tank the Center for European Policy, doesn’t find the spectacle of bilateral sulking particularly amusing. “We don’t have time for this: there is a war in Europe and we are facing an energy crisis,” she told DW.
“If we’re lucky and it’s not too cold in the next few months, we’ll get through this winter. But we’ll need a long-term solution to deal with rising energy prices through, for example, an EU solidarity fund,” plot.
Otherwise, power could become unaffordable, Pornschlegel added, leading to an economic crisis and more unemployment.
“The current crack in Europe influences [Russian leader] the hands of Vladimir Putin and paralyzes the EU’s capacity for action,” he stressed.
A much deeper disagreement?
France and Germany have areas where they traditionally disagree, such as energy. For example, France is in favor of nuclear power while Germany is opposed.
But, as Jacques-Pierre Gougeon, a Germany expert at the Paris-based think tank the Institute for Strategic and International Relations, pointed out, the current crisis seems deeper than previous disagreements.
“The dispute is particularly serious,” Gougeon told DW, “as some smaller EU member states, such as Poland and the Baltic states, are questioning Franco-German leadership.”
Ronja Kempin, a senior fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin, also believes the current argument reflects a deeper and more fundamental disagreement.
“Macron has long been pushing for the EU to work with smaller working groups and on specific issues and opposes an expansion of the EU before it has been reformed. He sees the EU as a way to expand power of France,” he explained to DW.
“Germany, on the other hand, sees the expansion of the EU as a way to transform and bring peace to countries,” he added.
looking on the bright side
DFI’s Seidendorf still sees a silver lining.
“German and French heads of state have often had to go through a learning curve to understand that the EU cannot function without the Franco-German couple.”
Former German leader Ludwig Erhard, who was in power in the 1960s, and former French leader Nicolas Sarkozy, who was president from 2007 to 2012, also had to learn this, Seidendorf said.
It’s “incredibly difficult” to compromise with an ally who disagrees with you on certain key areas, he admitted. “But eventually they all make up.”
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