France and Germany are increasingly open about their differences, from energy to budget rules to defence, at the risk of fracturing Europe at a time when international challenges are piling up.

Beyond a distant relationship between German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron, the main issues have become “places of ideological clashes” between the two countries, observes Eric-André Martin, secretary general of Cerfa, the Study Committee on Franco-German Relations of the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri).

In Berlin, we assure that despite the differences of opinion, we always end up agreeing on the essentials, aware that without the Franco-German “engine”, there will be no progress in Europe.

Paris also highlights the common desire to overcome difficulties. The heads of French diplomacy Catherine Colonna and German Annalena Baerbock insist that they are in constant contact.

“Germany and France are, it is well known, the best friends in the world, but sometimes we bicker like an old couple,” admitted the German minister on Friday in the French daily Ouest-France, evoking in particular the difficult reform of the European electricity market.

With the background of the battle over nuclear power, which France is putting forward for electricity supply when Germany closed its last power station in April.

“We don’t agree on anything,” adds, bluntly, Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck, in charge of the economy.

Same story in Paris where we talk about “difficult discussions” on energy and the reform of budgetary rules and where we would like to see more “cooperative” Germans.

Disputes that become structural. For Frank Baasner, director of the Franco-German Institute in Ludwigsburg, we are witnessing “a shift in perceptions, analyzes and priorities almost everywhere”.

A gap fueled by the stagnation of the German economy and growing doubts among Germans about their country’s ability to rebound.

“France: Germany better”, even recently headlined the German weekly der Spiegel in a rather provocative way. A title that did not go unnoticed in Paris.

“We are falling back into situations where everyone thinks of themselves first, forgetting that the solutions can only be European,” notes German expert Baasner.

However, Europe is faced with a series of emergencies: ensuring its security after the Russian offensive in Ukraine, accelerating its ecological transition and increasing its competitiveness against China and the United States.

Latest example of dissension, the Franco-German tank of the future project (MGCS), supposed to be completed between 2035 and 2040 to replace the French Leclerc tanks and the Leopard 2 of the Bundeswehr by 2035, but which is struggling to emerge .

The German and French Defense Ministers, Boris Pistorius and Sébastien Lecornu, affirmed in mid-July their desire to advance this project.

But while the two men are to discuss it during a meeting planned in France on September 22, the German press this week mentioned the recent creation of an industrial consortium likely to compete with the MGCS program.

This would bring together German, Swedish, Italian and Spanish companies. France would only be involved via the participation of the French group Nexter in the Franco-German company KNDS. A snub.

“We are at a turning point in the Franco-German relationship,” believes Eric-André Martin, for whom the question of the capacity of the two countries “to respond to the challenges” is “clearly posed”.

“It is not the image of a couple but the image of two countries which each carry divergent models and interests, which clash and constitute opposite poles at European level, contributing to fragment the Europe by creating majorities of circumstances,” he said.

Two groups of countries have thus already emerged, those of the Benelux, “a little saddened by the European blockage” and those, like Poland, see it “the opportunity to push their pawns by having a much stronger diplomatic activity”, notes -he.

Nearly two years after Olaf Scholz came to power, the two leaders have still not found the complicity of the previous tandems. They will meet again at the beginning of October in Hamburg, an opportunity to iron out their differences in an “open” manner in a “more informal” atmosphere, Paris hopes.

09/09/2023 05:00:42 –         Paris (AFP) –         © 2023 AFP