On December 8, Olaf Scholz was sworn in as new Chancellor of Germany after his predecessor and political mentor Angela Merkel had governed the country for the past 16 years. In the wake of power-transition in Germany, Scholz went to Paris and Brussels where he announced that he will earnestly work with other member states of the European Union (EU) to make Europe “as strong and sovereign”, as his predecessor did. This indicates that Scholz intends not only to prioritize the German-French axis, but also to make coordinated efforts among the EU in dealing with the major challenges such as foreign policy, security and massive immigration, new energy resources, border protection and relations with third countries.
“The new (German) federal government should work out a compromise on the taxonomy with France. The revitalization of the Franco-German tandem in Europe must become the top priority of the new federal government. From January onwards, Germany should support the French Council Presidency on an EU reform agenda. Germany and France should also make the Conference on the Future a success with courageous proposals for more democracy and the European ability to act,” said German MEP Sven Giegold.
French President Emmanuel Macron and Germany's new Chancellor Olaf Scholz played down differences on Friday over reform of EU budget rules and nuclear energy in green investment financing, pledging to keep the Franco-German axis strong, reported Reuters. The Paris trip was Scholz's first foreign visit since he officially became the German Chancellor last week. According to some diplomats, the move “presents Macron with an opportunity to seize a more senior role in the Franco-German relationship.”
European unity after Merkel
“How can European unity be preserved after Merkel?” Growing up in the East, which is considered the "other Europe", the Institut Montaigne says that Merkel’s personal background and “why she has sought to maintain a constructive relationship with the governments of Poland and Hungary despite their discrepancies, especially when it comes to the rule of law,” was not something that France easily understood and it was often looked down upon.
“It also explains why the Chancellor has always opposed centering the European Union around only a small group of states. Given the authoritarian tendencies of certain Eastern European states, her departure could thus accentuate the division between Eastern and Western Europe, making progress on a common political project increasingly difficult.” Therefore, keeping the European cohesion after Merkel's departure requires “re-launching the dynamics of the internal market to reel these governments in.” The unification of European economic law through the establishment of a European Business Code is one example of concrete projects that would help achieve this end.
Treaty of Aachen is the ground
Germany and France affirmed in the Treaty of Aachen that they are determined to work together for “a strong, sovereign, sustainable and resilient European Union.” After a bilateral Franco-German. Statement was issued on May 18, 2020 along with the proposals on the economic recovery of Europe, “the European Union has equipped itself to regain a dynamic upward trajectory.”
The Franco-German Declaration of Berlin on 31 May 2021, stated: “We are convinced that only solidarity and unity within the European Union and global cooperation will foster constructive and forward-looking answers to the challenges of our time. France and Germany welcome the launch of the Conference on the Future of Europe as a means to produce tangible and concrete results for the benefit of our citizens.”
The statement emphasized that Germany and France “will continue to enhance their bilateral cooperation while aiming to put it at the service of the European Union’s objectives as well as its fundamental values and principles. In this spirit, we are encouraged by the successful implementation of key bilateral projects launched since the signing of the Treaty of Aachen.”
Some altered core assumptions in Macron’s defense and security policy irritate the German government as they run counter to many of its own assumptions. A research paper published by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs argued that “This is the case, for instance, with flexibility in formats and the focus on operations. The characteristics of France’s political system, which are well-known but have stood out starkly during Macron’s mandate, further complicate bilateral cooperation. In other words, not only the contents but also the processes of French political decision-making strain cooperation with partners. The most important bilateral differences remain strategic culture, the role of industry, and administrative traditions.”
According to the French constitution a significant scale of power is given to the French President in shaping foreign, security and defense policy, besides being the chief of the armed forces. The paper added that “Macron has interpreted these constitutional provisions in a traditional way, in the sense of a clear and powerful presidential “domaine réservé”. Accordingly, the ministries’ main duty is to implement the president’s decisions. Macron has been defending French interests more explicitly and is readier for conflict than his predecessors, especially vis-à-vis Germany. The French system tends to adapt to the president’s decisions, rather than steer them. There is neither a systemic counterweight nor a controlling body for the president’s comprehensive power.”
“There’s a strong affection, a sense of loyalty and commitment to France. And there is no place in the world where we can’t work together and cooperate,” said President Biden before a highly anticipated meeting with President Macron in Rome on October 29. These words intended to emphasize the U.S. keenness to repair damaged bilateral ties with France following the diplomatic tensions triggered by AUKUS. The surprise announcement of the security deal between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia in mid-September 2021 resulted in a historic deterioration of Franco-American relations. The French authorities “felt blindsided” by the deal which was held at the expense of France’s interests in the Indo-Pacific region. Paris reacted strongly by recalling its ambassadors to the United States and Australia for the first time.
Germany took the side of France against the United States “for negotiating a security pact in secret with Australia and Britain that cost Paris a lucrative defense deal, while the EU's top official said such behavior was unacceptable,” according to Reuters. Consequently, the EU ambassadors postponed preparations for an inaugural trade and technology council on September 29, 2021 with the United States, that was “trumpeted as a major advance” in the transatlantic alliance. “One of our member states has been treated in a way that is not acceptable, so we need to know what happened and why," European Commission President Ursula von Der Leyen said in defense of France.
France said it was assessing all options in response to Australia's scrapping of a $40 billion submarine contract, while its biggest EU ally, Germany, rallied behind it, saying Washington and Canberra had damaged trust between allies that would be difficult to rebuild.
United States backS EU defense
The United States has a strategic goal in backing EU defense efforts which is strengthening the EU as a global actor. Creating an EU force requires reforms to the bloc’s foreign policymaking and maybe its political structure, stated a report published by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. However, if the EU creates an its own military force, it will have to determine how that force is directed.
“It will have to figure out a chain of command and a clear decision-making structure. This will put immense pressure on the EU to reform how it makes foreign policy decisions and its political structure. Ultimately, an EU defense capability will also likely increase the need for political accountability for the EU’s leaders. Civilian control over the military is a critical hallmark of a democracy,” the report went on.
Strengthening the Franco-German axis is not a new idea. On January 22, 1963, Germany and France signed the "Elysée Treaty". The German-French axis rose to prominence in conjunction with Britain’s exit from the European Union in 2017. The idea of France’s leadership of the European Union gained general acceptance among the Germans, as France excels militarily and possesses nuclear weapons, in addition to being a permanent member of the Security Council.
The great responsibility of the German-French axis today falls on France and Germany to lead the European Union again and put the house in order in light of the possibility of other countries secession from the European bloc. It has become certain that Britain's exit will strengthen Germany's role as the leader of the continent, a role that Germany or any other country is not comfortable with. Germany has rarely felt that lonely despite being in the middle of Europe.
With Britain's exit, Germany is losing an important partner within the European Union and in its foreign policy in general. Some believe that France is the country most likely to lead Europe after Britain’s withdrawal as a permanent member of the Security Council, and it is the country that has the right of veto, also the country that possesses nuclear weapons, but despite that, estimates say that France also needs Germany. Germany is Europe's economic locomotive, so joint action and cooperation between France and Germany are necessary to lead the European Union.
According to an article published by the French Institute for International Relations, “at the heart of the European project, the Franco-German tandem provides impetus for further integration within the EU. However, Brussels is yet to decide which direction it wants to take, and the French and Germans still have to agree on their position with regards to economics, foreign affairs, or enlargement.”
There is a geopolitical context calling for the EU attempts to become increasingly “geopolitical” and aims at “speaking the language of power”. Still, the questions remain: “How can the French and Germans cooperate, and which hurdles are they going to face? What are the likely impacts of the elections, both in Germany and in France, going to be? Does the reshuffling of the international order leave any alternative to increased Franco-German and European convergence?”
France considers the EU a starting point for its international political ambitions based in the organizations which provide rapid measures to confront challenges posed by super power rivalry. On the other side, Germany considers the EU an expansive base to manufacture and sell German products which enhances its economic and commercial power based on the intricate value chains of German companies.
The increasing competition between the U.S. and China, challenges in the European neighborhood posed by Russia and Turkey, and dealing with the influence of China, Russia, and Turkey in the Western Balkans are but some of the issues the EU needs to address. Although it has proven difficult on more than one occasion to find a common ground in condemning human rights and international law violations, both of France and Germany were finally able launch the Alliance for Multilateralism to tackle the current impasse in international institutions and uphold an international rules-based order.