France and Germany in the Era of Polycrisis: What is the State of Europe's Engine?
The era of polycrisis is applying pressure from every direction, and many are asking themselves what effect this is having on the Franco-German tandem.
The six-month French Presidency of the EU Council ended in June, with many important projects being advanced or completed across every sector of European policy. There were particular successes, however, when it came to EU strategic autonomy and sovereignty, the EU Strategic Compass, and the development of a more geopolitical European Union.
However, the loss of the absolute majority in the National Assembly was a blow to President Macron’s hopes, and many questioned were raised about whether he would be able to continue his leadership of the European Union.
A Successful Presidency
In its assessment of the EU Council Presidency, France can very clearly boast several important successes: progress was made on the sustainability package (Fit for 55), there was an agreement on the European minimum wage; we also saw pioneering laws on competitive and fair digital markets and services being finalised and agreed, which will pave the way for Europe's strengthened digital sovereignty and thus complete the data-driven digital single market.
Of course, the French presidency (or PFUE en bon francais) had several important challenges aside from inter-institutional negotiations during an election year, not least of which being the onset of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and it’s global ramifications: impact on food security, humanitarian crisis, and the now increasingly damaging issue of inflation and the cost of living crisis.
There was a clear need for the EU to very quickly learn to handle this geopolitical crisis with a united front, which is no mean feat when you look at the structure of the EU, the fight over the Conference on the Future of Europe, business interests across the continent, and political conflict.
To everyone’s surprise, however, we saw major steps being taken in the EU’s foreign and security policy through the development of the EU Strategic Compass, the development of a common arms purchasing / selling capacity, as well as the setting of an important precedent: the EU as a unified actor in an important war in its neighbourhood.
The common EU foreign policy strategy was adopted in mid-March, with the EU’s goal being to strengthen its ambitions as an increasingly geopolitically efficient and influential international actor and act accordingly.
In addition, the conference on the future of Europe was concluded on 9 May. This major discussion forum, in which civil society from all EU countries was invited to debate and dialogue on the priorities and future direction of the EU and its policies, also provided a lot of information that European leaders should use for ambitious reforms.
And in France?
Emmanuel Macron's re-election as president of the French republic was the cherry on top, allowing France to pursue its agenda with force and conviction in the final straight of the race.
However, this was marred during the legislative elections, where Macron’s governing coalition, campaigning under the name Ensemble !" and particularly his party La République en Marche, took a hit, losing their absolute majority of 308 seats and falling to only a relative majority of 245 seats.
His opponents on the left and right, however, achieved notable successes, as many of your dear readers of mine know, with both the NUPES coalition, led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and the far-right Rassemblement National, led by Marine Le Pen, winning 145 and 89 seats respectively, showing the divisions of the political landscape.
This situation has left Macron with a conundrum regarding how to carry out his programme, and he now has several options available to him for carrying out his reformist agenda.
Currently, it seems that the plan is to follow the “German” method: forging alliances and coalitions on specific sectors or topics to win majorities for his projects, which is a more time and resource intensive strategy however you spin it. He also has available to him the option to dissolve the National Assembly and trigger new elections. However, this is a big risk, and is something that could further damage Macron’s party.
France has many exciting months and years ahead of it, and everything that happens domestically impacts the European side of work. The EU has often been criticised for being focused around the so-called Franco-German engine, but the reality is that for the EU to function at its highest level, it needs a strong and present French state that is accompanied by an brave, emboldened, and strengthened Germany.
Without this, the European Union will struggle to stay the course in the rough geopolitical seas of the modern world, and will struggle to position itself as an anchor and a guarantor of the global liberal order.
It is possible that Macron is also eyeing Germany and trying to appear together on the international stage in order to divert attention from possible domestic political issues. It remains to be seen how the situation will develop in France. But it can also be trusted to give the German government the decisive impulses to set important milestones in European policy.
What does this mean for the Franco-German tandem and the EU?
An Allensbach poll recently revealed that Germans want a stronger Europe. This, together with the results of the conference on the future of Europe, should play an important role in all further steps, in order to involve the people and show them that they are at the centre of concerns, that they are listened to and that their opinion is an essential element for the development of the EU. This is the only way to gain acceptance and trust in the EU and its institutions.
But what next for the Franco-German cooperation? In what possible ways could they focus to jointly strengthen the EU?
In the short run, and with respect to the Ukrainian-war’s impact on European foreign and security policy, the continued work on common European military capacities and strategy is imperative. The ongoing “Future Combat Air System”-Project, also involving Spain, intends to develop a portion of the technological advancement and military innovation required to develop a more militarily capable, more sovereign Europe that is less dependent on the USA.
PESCO, or Permanent Structured Cooperation, is another area where the Franco-German engine can and should be the leading driver of cooperation that strengthen the EU. A process put in place in 2017, it is intended to allow groups of member states to come together to develop capacities that can serve to support the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).
The final result, a not insignificant number of us agree, should be a European Army that is controlled by a combined configuration of European Institutions, with sovereignty being passed down to the European citizenry.
This is why the Franco-German engine should make one of their primary goals the support and deliverence for the outcomes of the Conference on the Future of Europe, as without doing so we can hardly speak of sovereignty.
France and Germany must be the engine that pushes the Union towards a position that enables it to take more effective decisions, and which allows us to become a more reliable effective international actor, and one of the key requirements for achieving this is the abolishment of the unanimity rule in the European Council.
The impact of this on EU policy development would be huge, with the roadblock on further development of the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the use of it being removed, allowing us to take appropriate and meaningful decisions as and when required.
The same goes for more concrete citizen-related issues, like decisions on reforming the electoral system for the European Parliamentary elections and introducing transnational lists. The parliament recently gave it’s approval this particular point already, but the decision still needs to be given unanimous approval by the European Council.
The clear danger, as you keen readers have already guessed, is that the unanimity rule might again destroy this initiative intended to fortify the Europeanisation of our Union and bring us close to being what we can be.
Since President Macron often mentioned that treaty changes cannot be a taboo any longer, he and the German Chancellor should state an example and stress the necessity of this reform and push for it aggressively.
An EU capable of strong, concrete action is urgently needed in the age of polycrisis, were we clearly see that a focus on national interests doesn’t resolve global problems. If Germany and France do not move forward now, then who else will?
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Speaking about the international or global world order. There is a lot of need and space for improvement. So far the EU is the only "real" example of supranational representative democracy, economy and civic integration. As for example Yuval Harari argues, if the EU can manage internal problems its "institutional recipe" can be applied at the global level = some kind of world federation, united world planet :)