France’s Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna found many synonyms on Monday morning at the Lycée Montaigne in Paris’ 6th arrondissement to describe the connection with the Federal Republic: “There is a Franco-German couple, a Franco-German motor, the Franco-German relationship, like whatever you want to call it,” she says in front of the students who are taking both the baccalauréat and the Abitur here.
Colonna and her guest from Berlin, Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, are making every effort to make people forget the recent turmoil in relations between France and Germany. “There are no shards that you have to sweep up in these moments,” says Baerbock. At most there are differences, for example in energy policy on the subject of nuclear power, “which we look at differently”. However, one should not interpret disputes into different cultural identities. The European Union lives from the added value of different views, where there is no right or wrong.
It had always sounded a little different lately. At the end of October, the meeting of the Franco-German Council of Ministers was canceled at short notice, officially for reasons of scheduling and because more time was needed to reach results on energy policy issues and joint armaments projects. “The engine stutters clearly,” judged the French newspaper Le Monde. When Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) came alone to President Emmanuel Macron in Paris instead of with his ministers, the German side already emphasized that everything was going more smoothly than expected from outside. There was no comment at the Elysée Palace.
The governments of both countries have now launched a visit offensive so that relations can relax again in January at the latest by the 60th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty, which set the framework for Franco-German friendship. A few days before Foreign Minister Baerbock, who was also received by French President Macron for talks on Monday, Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) was in Paris. Economics Ministers Robert Habeck (Greens) and Bruno Le Maire are meeting in the French capital this Tuesday. On Friday, French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne will travel to Chancellor Scholz in Berlin.
A refusal by the chancellor caused irritation
Borne’s visit was actually planned for September, but was then canceled because of the Chancellor’s corona disease. Scholz also seemed to be too ill for a switchboard call with the Prime Minister – which caused irritation in France. Because on the same day Scholz was healthy enough to announce his 200 billion double boom package via video conference. Irrespective of this, France was not happy about the German package either: Paris would have liked to have been informed about the plans beforehand, as is actually the Franco-German tradition. In Berlin, it was defended that France had not previously agreed on its support packages for the French economy.
Not all points of contention between Germany and France have been resolved. At the EU level, Scholz belonged to the minority that rejected a European gas price cap, while Macron spoke in favor of it. The planned temporary cap that the EU Commission has now presented is less than what France had hoped for. Germany rejects new EU debt to support the member states in the energy crisis, as demanded by French EU Commissioner Thierry Breton, for example.
There were and still are conflicts between the two countries when it comes to armaments policy. That Germany last in the USA stealth aircraft of the type F-35 bought and arranged an air defense umbrella with Eastern European neighbors without French participation, was not well received in France. Progress has been made with the FCAS air combat system, the German-French-Spanish flagship project. After a long back and forth, the project is supposed to go into the development phase, even if not all of the contracts between the companies involved have been signed yet and the Bundestag in Germany still has to approve it.
It’s about “Germany and France setting a rhythm together when they need it,” said Baerbock, also with a view to the joint reaction to Russia’s war against Ukraine. The support platform for the Republic of Moldova, a Franco-German initiative together with Romania, whose third ministerial meeting in Paris was a reason for Baerbock’s trip, should also be considered an example for both of them. “If Europe has to stand together because our values, our home, have to be defended, then we play together.” And Colonna emphasized: “It is important to see each other and to meet often. That is something completely different than working on dossiers at a distance.” The progress of the FCAS project showed that taking time for important issues was the right thing to do. The mood on January 22, the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Élysée Treaty, should therefore be appropriately solemn.