Mith a teenager on a journey of self-discovery, SPD Chancellery Minister Wolfgang Schmidt recently compared Germany at a conference in Berlin. That was an unusual introspection from the control center of power. It describes quite well how France perceives the federal government at the moment: self-centered, unstable, sometimes ostentatious (100 billion special funds, 200 billion double booms), sometimes despondent (tanks), sometimes stubborn (nuclear power), rarely devoted.
“Germany is isolating itself,” Emmanuel Macron finally said so loudly that the Chancellor heard it too. During their mid-week debate in Paris, Olaf Scholz and Macron agreed that they want to coordinate better in the future – for the benefit of Europe.
The coalition agreement does contain a commitment to Franco-German cooperation in black letters. But who at the cabinet table embodies this relationship, which was further deepened in the Aachen Treaty? Who fills them with life? Diverse networks, private or professional connections as well as mutual holiday visits carry the Franco-German friendship in everyday life. But that does not yet replace decisive, coordinated government action.
The Bundeswehr as “the strongest conventional army in Europe” arouses suspicion
Of course, France is often an uncomfortable partner. It has been like this since the beginning of the European unification process. The spontaneous different thinking and different reactions despite the geographical proximity explains why the European house was built around the former hereditary enemies.
In the ever larger building, Berlin and Paris no longer have so much to say. But it still depends on them. It is therefore good that the Federal Chancellor committed himself to more intensive coordination work during the more than three-hour talks. In view of the “turning point in time” this is sorely needed.
Far too little attention is paid in Berlin to the fact that deeply buried fears in France are awakened when the Chancellor announces that he intends to expand the Bundeswehr into “Europe’s strongest conventional army”. There is great uneasiness about how the federal government is flaunting billions without making their use transparent. The procedure strengthens the power of opinion of the Le Pens and Mélenchons, who have long been warning of an overpowering Germany.
So far, Scholz has given Macron the cold shoulder
Franco-German alienation is the last thing Europe needs in the face of Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine. The German government’s resistance to a European gas price cap is having a devastating effect in France. Many French suspect they should be made to pay for Germany’s self-imposed dependence on Russian gas. This impression has not yet been corrected by the Federal Chancellor.
Macron has convinced his compatriots to grant him a second term. But Le Pen’s popularity is growing, also because Scholz has so far given France the cold shoulder. The chancellor would not have to look far within his party to find a role model for a functioning Franco-German exchange. Helmut Schmidt and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing showed how it could be done well into old age.