Why Franco-German Leadership on European Defense is Not in Sight
(Source: ETHZ Center for Security Studies; issued June 25, 2019)
In January 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel signed the Aachen Treaty, intended to renew the 1963 Elysée Treaty which outlined the future of a Franco-German friendship. But Barbara Kunz contends the pomp surrounding the signing ceremony in Aachen barely hides that things are not going well in Franco-German relations, including in European defense cooperation. Why? Simply put, Kunz argues that it’s because France and Germany have different strategic cultures.

Emmanuel Macron, already as a presidential candidate, bet heavily on Europe and the Franco-German tandem. This choice, which required a certain amount of political capital, resulted in a number of initiatives, many of them outlined in his September 2017 Sorbonne speech. It also resulted in the bilateral Aachen Treaty Macron and Angela Merkel signed in January 2019, intended to renew the 1963 Elysée Treaty.

But the pomp surrounding the signing ceremony in Aachen barely hides the fact that things are not going too well in Franco-German relations. Frustration with Berlin has reached new peaks in Paris, not least due to Germany’s failure to provide an “answer” to Macron’s vision for Europe.

When the Christian Democrats’ new president, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, wrote a debate article in March 2019, this was widely considered as too little, too late – in addition to the protocol faux pas of a party president without any government position responding to a head of state.

It seems clear that Germany is not willing to embark on a great journey toward “refounding Europe” together with Macron’s France, although Paris and Berlin of course do cooperate on many issues.

This general Franco-German disenchantment of course also applies to the field of defense. Rhetoric to the contrary and big projects such as the joint Future Combat Air System notwithstanding, Franco-German cooperation on defense is not living up to expectations – and in fact hardly ever has.

This holds true for purely bilateral defense matters: although France and Germany are each other’s most important partner in almost any policy field, both Paris and Berlin traditionally have closer defense cooperation with respective other partners. But it also holds true for the Franco-German tandem in the wider context of European defense cooperation, notably beyond the narrower confines of the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP).

Franco-German defense cooperation is often best explained by the political necessity to incorporate the field into the overall highly relevant bilateral relationship, rather than by actual convergence and shared defense priorities. (end of excerpt)


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