A Franco-German revival?

French and German ministers are set to meet in Paris on 4 February. While it looks like the engine that helps drive Europe is running again, we may get nothing more than handshakes.

ECFR Alumni · Former Senior Policy Fellow




On Thursday 4 February Paris will host a Franco-German ministerial
meeting involving the entire German cabinet. From the outside it looks like a
reappearance of the engine that helps drive Europe
along. But while they’re likely to come out with a bold declaration on common
policy initiatives – energy, climate change, security and so on – behind the
scenes the Franco-German engine is unlikely to start running as smoothly as in
the past.

The drive and purpose that the Franco-German
engine gives the EU has been sorely missed. This is the first such meeting for a
long time, and its timing is good: Germany
has a new government, and Europe has a new
institutional set-up. There is plenty of room to shape a European revival
through Franco-German leadership.

Europe badly needs new vigour. The Copenhagen Climate Summit was a
watershed moment of European weakness. Yes, Europe’s leaders did manage to
establish a common position on climate change, but they dramatically failed to
defend it and Europe’s interests vis-à-vis the world’s big players – the US and China. Europe has a lot of work to
do on the external front, be it in its relations with Russia, the conflict in Afghanistan, the stress over Iran. Domestically,
there is a continuing need for a common plan to get us out of the financial
crisis, at a time when the post-Lisbon reshuffle still clouds the issue of who
really holds the power in Europe.

A Franco-German declaration and a new
common approach will not solve these problems, but it would be an important
step towards Europe standing up for itself
again.

So will the opportunity be taken? The real question
ahead of this Paris meeting is whether France and Germany
will take it seriously, or treat it as a mere photo-opportunity like the twin
festivities in Berlin and Paris that marked the 20th
anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

France and Germany know
they ought to work more intensively together, but the problem is that on nearly
all the issues that are of strategic importance to the EU – the financial
crisis, industrial policies, agriculture, energy security, Russia, the Balkans and Iran – France
and Germany
simply do not agree. France,
for example, wants a tougher stance on Russia
and sanctions against Iran,
but Germany
doesn’t. Germany wants a very
tough and orthodox regime regarding the debt criteria in the stability pact, whereas
France
is prepared to go more laissez-faire.
France wants nuclear energy,
Germany
doesn’t.  

So in Paris
do not be fooled by the handshakes. Germany
and France
do have the opportunity to start working together for real, but might instead
just hide behind the rhetoric of partnership. We can hope for the former, but
may have to settle for the latter.

 

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of its individual authors.

Author

ECFR Alumni · Former Senior Policy Fellow