France’s Secretary of State for Europe on overcoming Franco-German differences
IN JANUARY THIS year, the French and German governments met in Paris to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Elysee Treaty. The meeting reaffirmed an ever closer relationship to strengthen the sovereignty of the European Union. Six months on, President Emmanuel Macrons forthcoming state visit to Germanythe first by a French leader since 2000has additional gravity. That is because geopolitics is driving joint support for the enlargement of the EU that lies ahead of us, and is intertwined with the EUs internal sovereignty agenda: defence and industrial policy and economic security. All this will bring about a profound change for Europe, with repercussions for the rest of the world. Germanys Chancellor Olaf Scholz has spoken of a Zeitenwende, and we are indeed at a turning point: the return of war to Europe, Russias desire to destabilise the continent and rising global tensions profoundly affect the EU. In this new context, we need a more geopolitical Europe, aware of its interests and able to protect them. We need to anchor the countries in our neighbourhood to the EU. The question is not if and when the bloc will be enlarged, but how. This means that the EU will dearly need a strong Franco-German engine at its core over the next decade as it embarks on the most political transformation it has ever faced. There is a will. The bilateral Aachen treaty, signed in 2019, fixes the common objective of convergence between France and Germany. Our dialogue is constant, across administrations, businesses and civil society. On that festive day in January, at the Sorbonne, President Macron invoked the memory of France and Germany clearing the way for co-operation after the second world war. Today, he said, they must become pioneers to rebuild our Europe together. The day after the meeting, we launched a Franco-German working group of independent experts to come up with proposals for reforming the EU, making it fit for the challenges to come. Everyone can see that France and Germany sometimes agree to disagree. On issues such as defence, energy and trade policy, our discussions continue. Post-war Germany has long refused to implement an active defence policy, instead focusing on being a country of peaceful traders and manufacturers, as its former foreign minister Joschka Fischer put it last year. France prides itself on holding the only nuclear deterrent in the EU. Germanys view of energy security is about diversifying its gas supply, whereas Frances energy policy is rooted in the expansion of nuclear power. Germanys trade policy has relied on exports to new markets, whereas Frances businesses have had a long tradition of investing abroad. These differences matter but they cannot be allowed to obstruct the way to an enlarged sovereign EU. Indeed, we cannot afford to disagree too much. As in past transformations of the continent, we will need a well-oiled Franco-German engine to lead the EU into the next transformation, that of turning it from an economically driven community into an enlarged sovereign, geopolitical power. Reconciliation was the foundation of the European Coal and Steel Community that morphed into the European Economic Community and eventually the EU. Over the years, the Franco-German friendship grew, not least thanks to civil society, from twinned municipalities to millions of youth exchanges. A decade after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, the euro became that friendships most visible brainchild, and in 2004 enlargement reunited the continents eastern and western halves. Throughout European criseswhether the global financial crisis, the euro sovereign-debt crisis that followed it, the migration crisis or the covid pandemicFrance and Germany have paved the way to bring other EU members into a deeper, stronger union. The strength of the Franco-German relationship lies in its ability to design compromises, not in the two countries imposing their will on others. Conscious of their shared responsibility, often coming from opposite perceptions and traditions, the two have been finding common ground that generally becomes acceptable for all Europeans. There are signs that the Franco-German engine is revving up again as Europe grapples with another crucial topic: geopolitics. The two countries share the same interests towards Ukraine and its neighbours, towards the Balkans and towards the Caucasus. President Macron and Chancellor Scholz spent more than half of their time in the most recent European Political Community meeting, in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, engaging together with countries from these regions. Germany and France are building a renewed partnership with Africa, as exemplified by the joint visit to the African Union in Addis Ababa of the two countries foreign ministers earlier this year. Both countries can only enter into trade relationships in line with climate and geopolitical objectives. And both understand that energy security at stable and competitive prices cannot be achieved without support from the rest of the continent. Without naivety or complacency, we, French and Germans, have no other choice than to work together, to overcome our differences; at stake is Europes destiny. With a large-scale war on our borders, we need to co-operate more closely in areas that are crucial for our sovereignty, such as defence, space and energy. We cannot shy away from a discussion about the necessary elements of our common defence and security policy, as strong European allies within NATO. Considering these challenges, the French presidents state visit to Germany will mark a new stage in our common journey. It will shape the future of Europe for the next 20 years. _______________ Laurence Boone is Frances Secretary of State for Europe.