Diverging interests have placed France and Germany at odds. Would the Franco-German partnership help steer Europe out of its current crisis?
As France and Germany celebrates 60 years of the signing of the Elysee Treaty, their partnership has been put to test with the war in Ukraine.
This led to increasing friction between the two countries as they announce measures to sanction Russian energy and find alternatives. France has also accused Berlin of not consulting Paris before announcing an energy support package of €200 billion in September 2022 which will cap the prices of electricity and gas until 2024. According to French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire, with this package, “Germany is in danger of creating an unfair advantage for its (German) industry over poorer EU countries that can't afford such support measures”. For its part, France has been reluctant to revive the MidCat pipeline which Germany was keen on so as to receive gas arriving from North Africa, as well as from LNG terminals in Spain and Portugal, through the Pyrenees to France and onward to Germany. However, in October 2022, France, Spain, and Portugal announced an agreement to drop the MidCat proposal in favour of a “green energy corridor” which will link Barcelona to Marseille—a submarine pipeline proposal called the BarMar. These differing views on energy policy are further complicated by a varied outlook towards their security policies. While France has emerged to be the leading voice for more integrated European defence structures, Germany’s position has remained ambiguous. While Berlin has taken various steps in the past few months to emerge as a credible security actor and to upgrade its defence capabilities, it is going to take time for it cements this position. Both countries have also contributed weapons to Ukraine during the course of the crisis, nonetheless, Germany has shown reluctance to approve the transfer of Leopard tanks to Kiev, while France has not ruled out sending Leclerc battle tanks. Moreover, certain policy decisions by Germany, such as procuring F-35 fighter jets from the United States (US) and launching of European Sky Shield Initiative with 14 European countries with an exception of France—has led to increasing frustrations in Paris. This is primarily because it is viewed by France as impacting the joint defence project on Future Combat Air System (FCAS) and Main Ground Combat System spearheaded by Paris and Berlin—which are currently behind their respective schedules.
The divisions between France and Germany emerged largely due to their differing dependence on Russian energy resources and what is perceived by France as unilateral actions by Germany to safeguard its energy security at the cost of European unity.
Divisions were also visible in their reactions to the US’ Inflation Reduction Act which was declared in August 2022. The IRA provide US$ 370 billion in subsidies for the adoption, mitigation, and transition to clean energy including tax credits for buying electric vehicles if they are assembled in the US. This puts European industries at a disadvantage with EU member states accusing the American administration for discriminating against foreign companies and encouraging the ‘Buy American’ strategy. While France and Germany have found common grounds for pursuing a strategy to push subsidies for EU industries, Paris has called on the EU to formulate a ‘Made in Europe’ strategy to counter the American initiative along with revising its emergency state aid rules and EU sovereign fund to finance investments across the bloc. While Berlin has acknowledged Paris’s concerns regarding the unfair competitive advantages of the IRA, it has expressed concerns on the possibility of ‘protectionism’ that the ‘Made in Europe’ strategy may bring.
Both countries have also contributed weapons to Ukraine during the course of the crisis, nonetheless, Germany has shown reluctance to approve the transfer of Leopard tanks to Kiev, while France has not ruled out sending Leclerc battle tanks.
French and German partnership have been critical for the European integration process with achievements ranging from establishment of single market, introduction of Euro, stabilisation of the economic crisis, and more recently establishment of reconstruction fund called NextGenEU for COVID recovery. These two countries have been viewed as consensus-makers in the EU because—‘once the two of them find an agreement, all other EU member states align behind that compromise.’ Therefore, a stalled Franco-German engine is not good for the EU as these two countries represent the largest economies in the eurozone along with demographic and military power in the continent. While it has its ups and downs, this engine has steered the EU through some of its most difficult situations and is more necessary today as Europe deals with the consequences of a war on one hand and economic recovery on the other. The 60 years of signing of the Elysee Treaty provides an opportune time for both countries to relook at their partnership and introspect on the future of European integration process.
German Chancellor Scholz and the French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne in November 2022 signed a Political Declaration titled ‘Franco-German Solidarity’ on energy solidarity committing to ‘implement concrete measures of mutual support and solidarity to guarantee the security of energy supply for their citizens and businesses.’
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Ankita Dutta was a Fellow with ORFs Strategic Studies Programme. Her research interests include European affairs and politics European Union and affairs Indian foreign policy ...Read More +