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Unraveling the Franco-German Nexus: Exploring the Strained Dynamics at the Core of the EU

Monday, 20 November 2023 11:37 Culture

"Fractured Unity: Unraveling the Strained Relationship Between France and Germany, Threatening the Heart of the EU

As an expert entrusted with envisioning Europe's future by the two cornerstone nations, it is disheartening to witness the growing discord between France and Germany, traditionally seen as the driving force behind postwar Europe's integration. The Franco-German alliance has been the bedrock of the EU, fostering collaboration on initiatives such as the single currency. However, recent years have witnessed a troubling decline in this once-unbreakable bond.

Ironically, while French President Emmanuel Macron stands as one of the most ardently pro-European leaders in a generation, and Olaf Scholz's coalition vows to transform the EU into a federal state, the practical collaboration between the two nations is faltering. Despite seemingly aligned visions on paper, France and Germany find themselves at odds on critical aspects of European cooperation, posing a significant risk to the continent amid heightened geopolitical uncertainties.

The conflict in Ukraine, coupled with Scholz's call for a 'Zeitenwende' in German foreign policy, should have paved the way for substantial progress in European defense integration. However, the reality tells a different story, with many Franco-German defense projects regressing. Despite united responses to the war in Ukraine, such as imposing robust sanctions and utilizing joint EU mechanisms to support Kyiv, genuine strides toward European strategic autonomy remain elusive.

The growing rift is not merely a matter of differing styles; it extends to substantial policy disagreements. Germany disapproves of Macron's persistent grandstanding, while simultaneously gravitating toward a more nationalistic and inward-looking stance. A joint project for a next-generation combat aircraft, crucial for securing Europe's skies, is quietly fizzling out. Germany's procurement of F-35 fighter jets from the US and contemplation of joining the UK's Tempest program underscore the widening divide, reminiscent of Australia's abrupt cancellation of its submarine program with France in favor of the Aukus initiative.

As the Franco-German engine stutters, the EU faces a precarious moment, grappling with challenges that demand a united front. The question lingers: Can these two stalwart nations reignite the flame that has fueled European integration, or are we witnessing a paradigm shift that could reshape the very core of the European Union?"

"Deteriorating Alliances: Struggles Over Military Projects and Energy Policies Strain Franco-German Relations

The ambitious Main Ground Combat System (MGCS), a collaborative effort between France's Nexter and Germany's KMW, once touted as the future of armored warfare, is now facing internal erosion. The entry of Rheinmetall into the consortium has led to the independent development of its own tank, forcing French and German defense ministers to acknowledge a staggering 10-year delay in delivering any tank as part of this joint venture.

Meanwhile, Germany's pivotal post-Ukraine war defense move, the European Sky Shield—an anti-ballistic missile system crucial for countering Russia's airstrikes—is evolving independently of France and most of southern Europe. Developed outside the EU framework with the incorporation of US and Israeli technology, this initiative, signed into a formal agreement with Israel, remains detached from discussions about its potential impact on British and French nuclear deterrence or nuclear proliferation treaties.

The repercussions of Berlin's 'Zeitenwende' (turning point) are reverberating strongly, particularly in Paris, as Germany intensifies transatlantic ties at the expense of forging a new European security architecture. The lack of serious discourse on the implications of the anti-ballistic missile program highlights a critical gap in strategic coordination.

Adding to the strains, disagreements on energy policy further hinder Europe's unified approach to climate goals. France and Germany find themselves increasingly at odds, impacting the continent's energy and climate policies profoundly. Germany's reliance on electricity from France's nuclear facilities during intermittent renewable production lapses was disrupted in the summer of 2022. This, coupled with Germany having to resort to firing up coal and natural gas stations to export electricity to France during a critical juncture, has eroded trust in France's nuclear strategy.

As Franco-German relations navigate through these intricate challenges, the once-solid foundation of cooperation in military endeavors and shared energy goals is showing signs of wear, prompting a reevaluation of the collaborative spirit that has long defined the heart of the European Union."

"Fractured Foundations: Disarray in Franco-German Relations Strains Critical Policies

The closure of fully operational nuclear power plants by Germany in the midst of a war and energy insecurity has become a source of contention with France, seen as an imprudent move that only exacerbates German emissions. The clash in assessments of each other's energy policies is not inherently incorrect, but it is proving to be a divisive force, hindering the development of a unified European energy strategy. This discord is not just a bilateral issue; it's stalling essential investments in renewables, interconnections, smart grids, and hydrogen production and distribution.

The impasse extends to the economic front, with the eurozone showing no further progress since Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron's ambitious joint borrowing and recovery facility in 2020. Agreement remains elusive on vital reforms such as fiscal rules, an expanded EU budget, augmentation of the EU's "own resources," or an extension of the Covid crisis fund pivotal for post-pandemic economic stability. The momentum that marked 2020 as a transformative year for the EU risks unraveling, trapped in a cycle of unresolved tensions.

In an attempt to rebuild Franco-German affinity, a group of 12 experts, including myself, was appointed by the French and German governments in January 2022. Guided by visionary speeches from Macron and Olaf Scholz, the group aimed to explore avenues for expanding and deepening integration. Macron envisioned an enlarged Europe, restructuring under the European political community, while Scholz proposed a grand bargain—support for EU institutional reform in exchange for concessions on voting rights in foreign policy and tax policy. However, France's response has been ambiguous, contributing to a further deterioration of the Franco-German relationship and a diminishing prospect for compromise.

These tensions resonate across the spectrum of policy cooperation, impacting everything from ongoing enlargement discussions to institutional reform debates. The fate of a unified European vision hangs in the balance, as the foundational partnership between France and Germany faces unprecedented challenges, with no clear resolution in sight."

"After the Newsletter Promotion: Navigating the Prolonged Strain in Franco-German Relations

While the tension between Macron and Scholz lingers, prospects for swift improvement remain bleak. The root causes are diverse, ranging from personal distrust and incompatibility between the leaders to a surge in nationalist sentiments fueled by economic uncertainties affecting European competitiveness. This shift is particularly evident in reactions to the war in Ukraine and the impacts of Joe Biden's Inflation Reduction Act.

A critical divergence lies in Germany's belief that maintaining U.S. involvement in Europe requires avoiding the development of autonomous defense capacity. This stance may persist until a new U.S. president is elected. Conversely, France asserts its commitment to building European defense autonomy, contributing to a fundamental disagreement.

Complicating matters is Germany's skepticism about Macron's lofty European visions, suspecting a lack of genuine willingness or capacity to compromise on France's national interests, especially given Macron's precarious domestic political standing. The European Council meeting in December looms as a crucial test, expected to formalize accession talks for Ukraine. This juncture demands a clear process and agenda for European reform, potentially involving treaty changes.

As the campaign for the 2024 European elections kicks off, the window of opportunity for substantive progress narrows. With elections in Germany (2025) and France (2027) on the horizon, the urgency for coordinated action intensifies. Berlin and Paris must seize this fleeting moment before it dissipates, marking a pivotal chapter in the future of European integration. Shahin Vallée, a senior research fellow at the German Council for Foreign Relations, underscores the importance of this critical juncture for shaping the trajectory of Europe."

"In conclusion, the strained relationship between Macron and Scholz, coupled with deep-seated disagreements on key issues, has cast a shadow over Franco-German cooperation. Rooted in personal distrust, economic uncertainties, and differing perspectives on European defense autonomy, these tensions jeopardize the prospect of a cohesive European agenda. As the European Council meeting in December approaches, with the formalization of Ukraine's accession talks, the urgency for reform and unity intensifies.

The window of opportunity for substantial progress is closing, with the European elections in 2024 signaling a crucial phase in shaping the continent's future. The divergent paths of Germany and France, driven by skepticism and nationalistic reflexes, underscore the need for decisive action before elections in Germany (2025) and France (2027) further complicate the landscape.

Seizing this moment is imperative for Berlin and Paris to reaffirm their commitment to European integration, setting a course for reform and collaboration. Shahin Vallée's insights from the German Council for Foreign Relations highlight the significance of the upcoming European Council meeting as a make-or-break moment, urging leaders to bridge divides and steer Europe toward a more united and resilient future."

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