Germany and France are so different. And that’s why it is working

But the EU also need decisiveness. Zbigniew Brzezinski just recently said that Europe needs today much more evocative forward-looking leadership of the kind it had some decades ago and which today is lacking. We hear this argument about leadership pretty often, but what it means in your opinion? What kind of leadership does Europe need? It is hard to deny that we need some leadership but the situation it pretty different then e.g. 50 years ago, in the time of Élysée Treaty.

Carolin Rüger,Institute for Political Science and Social Research – European Research and International Relations, Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

Any organization needs leadership. How can political leadership be conceived of in an EU-27? From my point of view, leadership in the EU can only be realized by co-leadership as a shared responsibility of different actors. Thinking of member state actors (there are other actors as well, e. g. the European institutions), the “natural allies” and “natural leaders” that come to our mind in Europe are France and Germany. For decades, the Franco-German motor has been vital for European integration. Its secret lies in the fact that Germany and France are so different that they often form extreme poles in the European game. Therefore, when these two have found a compromise, other member states can gather under this big Franco-German umbrella.

Is it still functioning within the 27? In my opinion, the Franco-German axis still has the potential of being a motor, but maybe the times of a two-stroke engine are gone. In foreign and security policy, the Franco-German motor has always depended on a third party. Without the “Big Three”, the “Big Boys”, UK, France and Germany, nothing works in EU foreign and security policy. In other areas, the “Weimar triangle”, adding the “new” member Poland to the Franco-German relationship, has a potential that should not be underestimated. This “ménage à trois” may have an energizing dynamic for economic and Euro issues in the future.

The question remains: What leadership does Europe need? In my opinion, the EU not only needs co-leadership, but also strategic leadership. At the moment, “leadership” often means nothing more than muddling through crisis. What is lacking are common long-term goals, both for the internal functioning of the EU and for European leadership in the global game. A famous saying refers to the idea that the other global actors are playing chess, while the EU is playing ping-pong. In my opinion, what Europe needs is a more chess-y approach in leadership, both internally and externally.

Coming back to the Franco-German axis on this very special day, the anniversary of the Elysée Treaty, I want to stress a further point: We shouldn’t glorify the Germany-Franco motor and leadership role. Reviewing integration history, there were always times when the Franco-Germany motor spluttered. We just have to look into the preamble which the German Bundestag added to the Elysée Treaty and which underlined the need for strong transatlantic cooperation and the wish to integrate the UK, a vision that completely ran counter the wishes of de Gaulle. And there are many other examples for problems in the leadership tandem. But: Isn’t it the big asset of European integration to move forward despite problems that seem insurmountable  French and Germany leaders had this vision to bridge gaping gaps. Let’s hope, there will be leaders like that also in the future.

Jean-Marc TrouilleJean Monnet Chair in European Economic Integration, School of Management, Bradford University

Right from the early beginnings of European construction, and at each step of the edifice, the bilateral relationship between France and Germany has been Europe’s driving force. Such leadership is still necessary today. Of course, in some areas Europe works in a federal way (competition policy, trade), but in most others its institutions are too weak to replace the role of national governments, hence the intergovernmental approach in many domains. The Franco-German relationship, as long as it acts in an inclusive way (not as a directoire), can be a very powerful force and bring closer together other member states: the two countries have such differences in terms of their economic and political cultures, traditions, mentalities and mindsets, that they reflect the huge diversity of Europe. Agreements reached between Berlin and Paris usually provide a synthesis between positions that were initially far apart. This helps a lot to make a compromise more acceptable to other European partners.

So far for the theory, which has worked for several decades. Today, Hollande and Merkel celebrate the semicentennial of their post-war reconciliation and close partnership, but they appear to be close by default, through lack of any other valid choice. Can we imagine Germany dropping the special entente with the French to favour a German-Russian axis, or an entente cordiale with London? Would it be thinkable that an ageing country so obsessed about security would take the risk of going its own way, leaving the eurozone at a cost that may by far exceed the costs of financing it even more? Some have even suggested that Germany could join the BRICS: but this is a heterogeneous group of emerging economies with different objectives and strategies, whilst Germany is a mature economy. As regards Paris, could it be conceivable that France’s ambition in Europe would consist of leading a coalition of Southern European debtor countries against the Northern creditors? Paris regards the euro as an existential economic choice and does not want to be regarded as a Southern debtor.

But reaching compromise between France and Germany, and between the EU, has become increasingly difficult in recent years. This is largely because joint decisions have to be reached in areas that are increasingly at the core of national sovereignty. What if, in a not too distant future, Brussels (and Berlin) were rejecting a proposed French budget on the grounds that defence spendings were putting too much strain on government borrowing? Perhaps this would explain the cold reaction of France each time that Germany has offered political union and increased federalism?

The other matter of concern is the increasing imbalance between the impressive economic achievements of Germany and the weakening (and risk of a ‘de-coupling’) of the French economy. This affects the parity within French-German relations. As a senior civil servant in Brussels recently put it, the two need each other: Germany in order to hide its strengths, and France in order to hide its weaknesses.

Kerry E. HowellProfessor, Director of Research, School of Management, University of Plymouth

Leadership may be considered a process or act of influencing organisational and or group activity in goal attainment. So leadership is directly related to the organised group and its objectives. Leadership cannot exist unless differentiated responsibility or division of labour is apparent that is a manifestation of organised group activity. Responsibility is the obligation to pursue an objective and an obligation for someone to assign the objective to the group or individual. In its broadest context, responsibility indicates the objectives for which a group is accountable and the group’s status within the structure. This leads to a number of definitions in terms of leadership as process, power relationships, influence, goals and groups. In other words, leadership is a process that involves influence to ensure goal attainment in an organisational context.  This given, leadership requires followers. If one is unable to understand leadership without followership from where should leadership in the EU emanate? Should leadership come from the EU supranational institutions or Members States? It is apparent that power relationships require reform if the EU and/or Member States are able to influence goals and groups in an effective manner; leadership in the EU is a process and contingent so should adapt to reflect on-going development and evolution. Indeed, the theoretical frameworks for understanding these developments in relation to practical policy-making and leadership techniques are required.

At present we are witnessing a shift in discourse that redefines the EU and European integration in terms of a supranational democratic institution rather than international organisation. Consequently, ideas relating to Europeanization take on a much deeper meaning and incorporate not only policy change but cultural transformation and democratic policy-making procedures accepted above and beyond the nation-state. Ideas are taking on different reproductions and transformations and our subsequent set of practices in terms of leadership and policy implementation provide different meaning for our ontological perspectives. For example, what could be said regarding economic, monetary, fiscal and political integration in the EU was different following the Single European Act, Single European Market, the Maastricht Treaty (TEU), the recent eurozone crisis etc,. Social relations changed as have the discourses embedded in the narratives that relate to our understanding of the structure of the EU and wider world. The EU incorporates a new form of organisation which is neither nation-sate nor international structure. It is this new form that provides the basis for a different discourse not a completely new discourse but a synthesis of existing ideas in relation to future possibilities and changing rationales. Europeanization provides a means of mapping, analysing and assessing these changes; it enables a starting point for developing sound leadership strategies within the EU.

Erik JonesProfessor of European Studies, Director, Bologna Institute for Policy Research, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Bologna Center, The Johns Hopkins University

The basic line is that Europe needs decisiveness. We may disagree with what Hollande did in Mali, but we cannot disagree that he did something. The European Union has not. I think that is a concern, because it is obvious from the events in Algeria that all Europeans are implicated in French actions – the extremists the French are fighting do not care much for the difference between French and Germans, or Norwegians for that matter. It is also obvious that the French are struggling to maintain a 2000 strong deployment in a country where they have a long experience and that is not all that far away geographically. Europe needs to work together to be able to field a larger and more effective force. It also needs to work together because it is seen as a unitary actor by the outside world. But to work together, Europe needs some mechanism for taking decisive action. That is lacking at the moment.


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