Not close friends: French President Emmanuel Macron (left) and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
Guido Fieldsforeign editor
Next Sunday is a historic day for Europe. On January 22, 60 years ago, Germany and France signed the Élysée Treaty, which sealed the friendship between the two countries after the Second World War.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz (64) and President Emmanuel Macron (45) will duly celebrate the anniversary at a ceremony at the Sorbonne University in Paris.
Only: The much-vaunted friendship has cracks. Gilbert Casasus (66), professor emeritus for European studies and expert on the Élysée Treaty, says to Blick: “German-French relations are going through a serious crisis.”
American influence grows
The conflict can be traced back to different European policy positions and a generation change. Casasus on Blick: “While Paris is legitimately concerned about the renaissance of pro-American influence in Germany, a new generation of German politicians is distancing themselves from the intergovernmental exemplary character of Franco-German cooperation in Europe.”
This applies in particular to the German Greens, who are increasingly rejecting French values in favor of an Anglo-Saxon social model. “France has clearly lost its attractiveness in Germany,” says Casasus.
In addition, both countries are confronted with very different starting positions. Casasus explains that Scholz can count on a reasonably stable government majority, which Macron’s party missed in the parliamentary elections in spring 2022.
Even the heads of government did not see each other as equals. Casasus: “As a model student of French republican elite thinking, Macron is intellectually and culturally superior to Scholz. In addition, he has statesmanlike and rhetorical talents that are less expressed in Scholz.”
Several points of contention
The conflict has repeatedly shown itself publicly in recent years. In Europe, Germany has been the main driving force so far, but France is now pushing the pedal much harder. Casasus mentions the following points of contention:
After his pro-European speech at the Sorbonne on September 26, 2017, Macron is still waiting for a satisfactory and, for him, gratifying German response. In Paris, Macron pleaded for the re-establishment of a sovereign, united and democratic Europe.
In March 2019, the then CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (60) embarrassed Paris when she clearly rejected the French proposal for a European army.
On August 29, 2022, in his Prague speech on Europe, Chancellor Olaf Scholz advocated an enlargement of the EU to 36 states, which Paris dismissed as a pipe dream without prior EU reform.
In addition, some national energy and military policy decisions lead to a mutual loss of trust. Germany is still mining coal, while France is betting on nuclear. And France is angry because Germany wants to buy American weapons systems.
Without friendship, the EU is paralyzed
The friendship between Germany and France is of great importance for stability in Europe. “Franco-German relations have long since become a yardstick for the state of the European Union: the better the cooperation works, the more capable the EU is of acting,” said Casasus.
All mostly short-term attempts to prioritize other countries have failed – such as the rapprochement of former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (78) with Great Britain or that of former President François Hollande (68) with the Mediterranean countries.
To restore friendship, the two governments would have to overcome their differences. According to Casasus, this affects defense policy projects such as a joint air combat system, restructuring of the energy supply and approaches to regional peacekeeping. The two governments should also submit an ambitious proposal to their EU partners in the areas of climate, migration and social policy.
Another key to reviving friendship is through language. Casasus demands that both countries commit themselves to a dedicated and urgent teaching and language policy as soon as possible “so that the cultural languages German and French in Europe do not fall even more dramatically as a victim of English or American thinking”.
Casasus sums it up: “Even though I’m currently worried about the state of Franco-German relations, it has to be said that this is a unique and incomparable European success story.”