💥The (Combusting) Franco-German Engine
The Franco-German engine is stuttering in its drive to push European development and unity, but what happened? and what has caused all this friction between Macron and Scholz?
This week saw the current peak in the argument between President Emmanuel macron stadium in France and Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the culmination of repeated cancellations and arguments that have repeatedly flared between the two core EU states.
Focused on the issues regarding the direction of the European policy agenda, the actions of the German state, and moreover, the behaviour of several actors from within Chancellor Scholz’ team, a lot of stress has been applied on not only the Franco-German relationship, but even the wider EU relationship.
Want to see me debate this topic on Al Jazeera English with Pieter Cleppe (Brussels Report) and Eva Heidbreder (Professor for multilevel governance in Europe) ? Check out the video below:
The big breaking point was when the planned Franco-German summit in Fontainebleau was postponed to January, due to the ongoing differences between the two parties, who couldn’t agree on topics, such as energy inflation, European security, and in general, the development of the European Union.
In particular, the German plan to provide €200 billion in energy price relief package was something that rubbed many member states the wrong way and achieved the double own goal of not only damaging the image of the German state, but also undermining the whole point of the single market: to ensure that we’re all playing on a level playing field.
Having complained that an EU Price Cap was unworkable and would be a problem for the EU, it did not go unnoticed that this fund would fund energy price caps in Germany, ignoring all arguments for a coherent European response to this crisis.
To put this into context the French package was around €40/60 billion.
Not only this, but there has been an increasingly disrespectful attitude of the German state. A meeting with Elizabeth Borne was cancelled was cancelled by Scholz’ team, because he had coronavirus, and a subsequently organised videoconference was cancelled because he felt too sick.
And yet, he appears a few hours later, apparently perfectly fine, to announce the above €200 billion energy package, which he had failed to discuss with just about anybody outside of his coalition.
Surely this isn’t such a big deal though, right?
Not only is this a big deal, but this isn’t the only issue where Germany is damaging both the cause of European Strategic Autonomy and efforts to ensure European independence.
Despite our goal of achieving independence and increase our ability to act as an independent Union, Germany recently opted to not procure European weapons and equipment to strengthen its military and, instead, opted to use American and Israeli equipment.
Germany has also decided that it would ignore its French partner when it comes to defence and security collaboration, allowing Franco-German initiatives to instead sign deals and cooperation’s with other NATO member states towards the east.
And it gets worse.
Despite having recently learned a very harsh lesson regarding its dependency on Russia for gas and oil, Scholz is now making the exact same mistake in senseless acts regarding Chinese actors.
Despite the designation of China as a ‘Strategic Competitor’ (EU speak for ‘Danger Danger’), Scholz’ government actively went out of its way to damage the EU’s security with the sale of a 24.9% portion of a segment of the Hamburg docks, despite the uproar regarding Chinese investment into EU infrastructure.
Not only this, but more news came out today regarding the German state selling a semiconductor production facility to China , which undermines our collective position as a Union, damages the possibilities of the European Chips Act, and ignores everything we know about Chinese actions in the Balkans, Africa, and the wider world.
On top of this, Scholz has decided that he will visit China alone with an exclusively Germany delegation, having refused to include his French, European, or EU institutional colleagues, when every effort was made to include Germany when other major states made similar visits due to the importance of working together.
Why is Germany doing this?
Having such a core, and historically “responsible”, EU member state endanger EU independence security raises a lot of questions regarding why this is happening, and honestly, there is no easy answer to this question.
Firstly, something that cannot be underestimated is the impact of domestic politics, and how the problems of the governing coalition are forcing it to take more and more extreme political decisions.
Secondly, successive crises have eroded trust in the German state, and in a post-Merkel world, the position of the German state as the leader of Europe, and as a leader in the global diplomatic arena, has been lost.
Third, with the lingering impact of the COVID-19 Crisis, the beating that the German reputation took due to its overreliance on Russian gas while ignoring all warnings, and the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, a feeling of desperation will have seeped into the government.
As a result, the German government under Olaf Scholz has potentially felt forced to increasingly go it alone, and with the fact that the government no longer has Angela Merkel’s steady hand and her experience of the polycrises that taught her the absolute necessity of European cooperation, however imperfect it was, things are slowly coming off the rails.
While Merkel did often take decisions that were for the benefit of the CDU/CSU and/or Germany herself, such as giving Viktor Orban more leeway than he should have, or pushing through problematic projects like Nordstream, she still knew that Germany ultimately needed to work with the EU27.
Unfortunately, it seems that Olaf Scholz now needs to learn these lessons all over again, and if things keep getting worse for him at home, in Europe, and abroad, he may not have much time to learn them.
Luckily, in the meantime, he will be able to rely on the strained good-will of the EU27 leaders who want and/or need to work with Germany, and above all else, a French president who is hell-bent on making European cooperation and integration work.
Not only this, but they have been gifted an amazing gift: a common competitor in the form of Joe Biden’s United States, who has been threatened with trade retaliation over U.S. subsidies to encourage U.S. companies to move their production centres home.
Because what brings us together as Europeans better than a good ol’ trade war?
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