Germany and France: The climate is better – but the points of contention remain

The French call it “réconciliation” when a couple reconciles. Seen in this light, the past few days have been a “semaine de la réconciliation” – a week of reconciliation for the Franco-German duo. The governments in Berlin and Paris had canceled a joint cabinet meeting originally planned for October.

The main reason was the disinterest in Berlin. After the numerous ministerial visits to Berlin and Paris and the final visit by French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne to Chancellor Olaf Scholz, everything should be fine again.

But will it? In Paris, the suspicion that the Ukraine war has shifted the balance in the EU is not unfounded. Poland, which warned early on about the consequences of dependence on Russian gas, is loudly asserting its demands in terms of sanctions policy or the capping of EU gas import prices.

Scholz still has no real connection to Macron

The federal government is indeed well advised to pay more attention to the – difficult – Polish partner in the future. Don’t just look west and towards France, but also east: That must be the motto for Berlin.

In addition, the rather brittle-looking Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron, who likes to celebrate rhetorical fireworks, have still not found a level in personal interaction.

But the accusation of completely underestimating the importance of the Franco-German tandem in the EU does not only apply to Scholz. The school holidays in October were also more important to Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock than the Franco-German Council of Ministers.

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) during her recent visit to Paris.
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) during her recent visit to Paris.
© Photo: dpa/Michel Euler

Seen in this way, it was already a step forward that Baerbock, for example, spoke out in favor of organizing more student exchanges between the two countries during her visit to Paris. Such encounters are not a dusty relic from the post-war period, but the essence that keeps the general population’s understanding of the neighboring country alive.

In terms of political substance, there was little progress in the past week on the numerous Franco-German issues. At EU level, this includes the dispute over a cap on the purchase of gas, the price of which reached dizzying heights last summer because Germany simply outbid its EU partners in the run on the raw material.

Economics Minister Robert Habeck’s most recent tête-à-tête at Macron’s in the Elysée Palace did nothing to change the fact that Berlin and Paris are on different sides in the Brussels dispute over the price cap: France wants an effective price cap, Germany warns of the consequences of market intervention.

There are also only triple steps in the joint air combat system FCAS, which Germany is developing together with France and Spain. Macron sees the new system, which is to replace the Eurofighter and the French jet “Rafale”, as an expression of the European sovereignty he has repeatedly invoked.

After all: In his government statement last Wednesday, Scholz stated that he agreed with Macron that the EU as a geopolitical actor must not go under.

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