22 November 2022 16: 15
Headings: Opinions News Policy

Tensions arose between Germany and France over Ukraine

In Europe, they are concerned about the growth of another conflict between the most powerful EU countries.

Foreign Policy
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Tensions arose between Germany and France over Ukraine

In post-war Europe, Franco-German tensions are the norm. Even before the unification of Europe began in the 1950s, these countries, competing for power on the continent, fought three great wars among themselves. Today, France and Germany are also "shooting at each other," but this is connected with words, including the war in Ukraine, which causes serious concern in the European community. It says in publication ForeignPolicy.

The opinion of the author may not coincide with the opinion of the editors

Most of today's Franco-German problems are explained by current circumstances. The world is changing, forcing the EU to change. The EU is currently trying hard to help Paris, Berlin and others find compromises on energy policy, budgetary issues, security issues and other difficulties caused by the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. As always, Brussels officials act as midwives. They are working hard on European proposals, preparing meetings of ministerial councils and summits with the participation of heads of state and government. For the media, this is a lot of drama, with informal briefings by anonymous diplomats and politicians accusing the other side of leaking information about talks being held behind closed doors. Again, this is normal practice. And it shows that some compromises are quite achievable.

But there is a deeper problem here, which can be called an ailment. It is at the heart of post-war relations between Paris and Berlin.. French economist Jacques Attali (Jacques Attali), who worked as a special adviser to the President François Mitterrand and chief executive of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, recently wrote about a gap in long-term strategic interests that could only be bridged if Europe took a big step forward. However, the memory of the Franco-German wars is fading, and Attali fears that the current leaders of the two countries do not understand this well enough. As a result "War between France and Germany becomes possible again."

The current divisions between France and Germany are rooted in one of the EU's key functions: to prevent a new transformation of Germany into the dominant power of Europe. So far, this has been done with impressive success. 70 years after the start of European unification Germans remain perhaps the leading pacifists in our worlde. Their army, the Bundeswehr, is seriously underfunded, which causes real scandals.

It is often said that the Germans themselves fear the power of Germany more than all other Europeans put together. That's why a strategy called "Change through Trade" (Wandel durch Handel), according to which trade relations cause political change (this is how the EU works), suits Germany quite well. France, meanwhile, is falling further behind economically, and its financial stability depends on German guarantees for the euro. And yet, it takes on the role of European leader in matters of security, defense and foreign policy.

This division of labor suited both countries and the European Union for many years. France and Germany complemented each other, allowing each to do what he was best at. Germany ignored geopolitics and concentrated its efforts on trade. France, as the only nuclear power on the continent, with a sizable military, and a seat on the UN Security Council, could radiate power and might, with few pointing the finger at its debts and deficits. But it has long been clear that there is an imbalance in these relations. In Europe, Germany pretends to be smaller than it really is, while France tends to do just the opposite.

After Russia started the war in Ukraine, this basic divergence suddenly surfaced on the surface of European politics, causing friction between the parties. Due to military action Germany now has two serious problems. First, its development model has been threatened by sanctions against Russia and the sudden shutdown of Russian gas, which used to be plentiful. For the first time in many years, Europe's central economic powerhouse, on which so many EU members depend, is in a position to import more than it exports. That's why the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz defended his much-criticized visit to China with all his might this month.

Germany's second problem is that France is not protecting Europe from the Russian threat, but NATO. Germany suddenly realized that Europe urgently needed a security and defense policy, and that she could not rely on France in this matter. The French President Emmanuel Macronand there are interesting ideas about the "strategic autonomy" of Europe, but he somehow vaguely explains what this means, and under whose leadership these plans will be carried out. That is why improving Germany's relations with Washington became a new priority for Scholz. He is banking on Atlantic solidarity, knowing that the real headache for Washington politicians is not Ukraine or Europe, but China. And that says a lot. Feeling unprotected, Berlin tries to find shelter.

France feels neglected. Her military weakness has been exposed and it hurts a lot.. French columnist Luc de Baroche (Luc de Barochez) wrote: "She barely managed to send 18 tanks to Ukraine." Therefore Paris bombards Berlin with hail of criticism. Why did Berlin not react in any way to Macron's numerous European initiatives for several years, and now decided to act alone? Why did Scholz go to China alone? Why did Berlin order American F-35s and not French Rafales this year? Germany unexpectedly takes the initiative unilaterally without coordinating with France, which upsets the delicate balance between Paris and Berlin. "The position of Germany is selfish, short-sighted, it does not take into account the interests of Europe, although the risks of such a position are well known," – told the newspaper Le Monde, a researcher at the Harvard Business School Philip Le Corre (Philippe Le Corre).

In the past, geopolitical changes have also at times caused deep divisions between France and Germany. The leaders reconciled them by taking new steps towards European integration. For example, this was the case after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, when East and West Germany united, and France suddenly found itself face to face with a huge and powerful partner. The leaders of the two countries, Mitterrand and Kohl, managed to convince the other 10 EU members of the need for a serious reconfiguration of the entire European project. Among other things, this led to the creation of a common European currency, the euro.

Some Europeans, remembering those historical events, are in favor of a new major reconfiguration. Attali, for example, proposes to solve the problem of Franco-German differences by creating a proper European defense on the continent. But the EU is much larger today than it was in 1989. It is not clear whether Scholz and Macron will agree that a new major European project is needed, and whether they will convince their 25 colleagues of this. But one thing is certain. Although France and Germany have less power and influence in today's Europe than before, they are still strong enough for the rest of the countries of the continent, and they hope for good relations between them - as in the old days of the European Commissioner Manuel Marina.


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