European Union: France versus Germany. Or not?

How would you evaluate French-German relations one year after François Hollande’s victory in the French presidential elections? Is the Franco-German engine still working? Read few comments.

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

What a striking contrast. Just three months ago, France and Germany were orchestrating celebrations in Berlin for the semicentennial of their post-war reconciliation and close cooperation. And yet, in a debate last Friday with French Daily Le Monde, Claude Bartolone, President of the French National Assembly, launched heavy artillery against Germany, calling for a confrontation with Berlin in order to reduce budgetary constraints and gear European economic policy towards more growth. Whilst François Hollande remained embarrassingly quiet over the week-end, French Prime Minister (and former teacher of German) Jean-Marc Ayrault endeavoured to put things right, explaining in Angela Merkel’s mother tongue that ‘We won’t solve the problems of Europe without an intense and sincere dialogue between France and Germany’. Pierre Moscovici, French Economy and Finance Minister, severely criticized Bartolone’s call for open confrontation with Germany as ‘totally counterproductive’. Did Bartolone think of ‘confrontation’ in the (French) sense of ‘comparing ideas’, or as an Anglicism meaning ‘clash’? He did not clarify this important semantic nuance. However, a document produced by the Socialist Party last Friday initially referring to the German Chancellor as ‘uncompromising and selfish’, did not leave any doubt.

Nevertheless, the harm had been inflicted. More than ever, the French left appears as much divided about Germany as it is about implementing reforms, or about Europe and globalisation. Holding Germany responsible is dangerous, for a number of reasons:

  • Antagonising Germany is not constructive. A. Merkel was already subject to severe criticism in Southern Europe. This time, however, criticism does not emanate from Greek extremists, but from the political party of the President of France, a country which Berlin still regards as its indispensable partner.
  • France has a ‘duty of care’ within the EU. This clumsy event can only highlight France’s current weakness even more. It also seems to indicate that François Hollande does not control his troops.
  • Making the German Chancellor a scapegoat and holding its policies responsible for internal economic, political and social difficulties, particularly at a time when anti-German sentiment is developing in Europe, is a dangerous oversimplification that can only serve the interests of populists.It cannot be in any European’s interest to isolate Germany, a country that has always been regarded as either too strong or too weak on the European stage.  Whilst Poland’s foreign Minister Radek Sikorski declared he feared German power less than German inactivity, some others fear German dominance. No German decision maker would feel comfortable with either dominance or isolation. It is precisely to prevent such situation from happening that a balanced and effective Franco-German cooperation is essential for Europe.

Robert LadrechProfessor of European Politics, School of Politics, International Relations & Philosophy, Keele University

Franco-German relations are fated to be closely intertwined simply because they are separately or together the leading member states in the EU. One cannot lead without the others’ support. From the mid-1970s to mid-1990s, a personal relationship between the French president and German Chancellor acted to make this a ‘special’ relationship despite their different partisan backgrounds (example: conservative Giscard d’Estaing and social democrat Schmidt and then socialist Mitterrand and conservative Kohl). The 2000s have not witnessed this personal relationship, but the questions regarding deeper integration had been viewed in a similar manner by both governments. The difference today is that the financial crisis has heightened political differences as to how to resolve the economic problems, and the contrast between Hollande (anti-austerity) and Merkel tests the limits of this relationship. The recently leaked Parti Socialiste document denouncing Merkel and the German-led austerity policies again highlights the huge political difference between French Left and German Right, but because the EU is deeply engaged in a policy orientation that does indeed have deep political consequences, unlike say issues of institutional integration changes, it is more pronounced. These differences were already apparent during the ill-fated Constitutional Treaty referendum in France in 2005; the difference today is the context of the financial/economic crisis.

Alistair Cole, Professor, Director of Research (Politics),  Cardiff School of European Languages, Translation and Politics, Cardiff University

Difficult phase, not least because of the internal context of politics in both countries.

Pressures from the PS on Hollande  – and the effect of this is amplified because the French President has appeared to have acceded to the most difficult demands – notably by accepting the Fiscal Compact treaty.

Also: very guarded relations, outside of the party political arena. Merkel careful not publicly to criticise the French administration – but worried in private about France’s ability to deliver. Worries about Banking Union

Is Franco-German engine working or not very much?

Not particularly – best example of this the EU Budgetary agreement (Merkel + Cameron v. Hollande).  No joint contribution yet for the June 2013 summit – though this was promised as p[art of the subdued 50 years celebrations of the Elysede treaty. Partisan dimension important – French PS not part of the EPP which acts as a powerful pan-European network.

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

These are my considerations in a more general context.

Some consider that we can identify a difference in the psyche of the UK and mainland Europeans in that there is less support for closer ties with the EU in the form of the euro and this may be traced back to wartime experiences. Following the German victory in France, the UK found itself alone and facing a difficult historical period. It may be argued that during this period one may identify two profound psychological underpinnings to the post-war UK consciousness:

·    In the UK people were committed to national loyalty because as citizens they were united against a common enemy. They were committed to the nation and the whole nation counted on this loyalty and commitment.

·  There was also loss of faith in Europe, with ideas of integration replacing a lack of confidence in European nation-states.

This illustrated the different wartime experiences of the Member States. Most of Europe condemned the part nationalism played in the creation of National Socialism and Fascism. Most countries saw the nation-state as part of the problem; for the UK, however, this was Europe’s saviour. Indeed, such underpins the relationship between Germany and France regarding the development of the EU and their commitment to this. Of course, this does not explain all differentiation as Member States have indicated levels of pro or anti integration in a historical context e.g. France in the 1960s and France today. However, wartime experiences may be used as a gauge in identifying different perspectives that Member States have regarding the pace of European integration and reasons for the EU. France and Germany’s relationship is an experiment that reflects the Kantian idea of perpetual peace. The French-German relationship established through the Elysée Treaty ensured a constant open dialogue that worked toward reaching agreements as well as initiating and developing new projects that could be extended to other Member States. Because of the importance given the European project the relationship has been successful despite the differences in culture and national interests. Indeed, common and self-interest are amalgamated. France and Germany have common vision of Europe and are willing to advance and ensure collective initiatives. Such has been demonstrated since the inception of the European project as well as with the more recent solutions regarding the debt crisis. In France, the Minister for European Affairs is also Secretary General for the French-German co-operation. Such illustrates the close proximity between co-operation with Germany and the development of the EU. Overall, French-German cooperation is perceived as a ‘Mittel zum zweck’, that is, a mechanism to enable the development of the EU.

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2 Responses

  1. To Alistair Cole

    Nobody expects the French socialisits to be(come) part of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), but sometimes we are left in doubt as to how much the PS of France contributes to the centre-left Europarty PES, since the French socialists seem to have no real vision for reform of the eurozone or the wider European Union.

  2. As relações Franco Alemão estão a esvaziar a nossa democracia europeia porque os Socialistas ainda não encontraram uma visão real para a reforma do euro e da União Europeia porque nunca tinha acontecido as disigualdades dos estados e abandonando o espirito da solidariedade

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