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Commentary | 11 July 2017

The Franco-German Pact: More common ground than disagreement

Image of Jana Puglierin

Jana Puglierin |Head of the Alfred von Oppenheim Center for European Policy Studies, German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP)

Image of Claire Demesmay

Claire Demesmay |Head of the Franco-German Relations Program, German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP)

Defence Economy EU France Germany Euro-Atlantic Security

In Berlin a great deal of hope has been placed on France’s new president, and for good reason: Macron’s victory could be the last chance to stabilize and restore the EU’s legitimacy. If his presidency fails, it cannot be ruled out that anti-European and anti-German forces will surge to power in France in five years’ time. Regardless of which party wins the German election in September, it is in Berlin’s own interest that Macron’s presidency is a success. In Germany, most signs point to a victory for Chancellor Angela Merkel. But even if Martin Schulz were to pull off a dramatic upset and win the election, both candidates are strong champions of the European project and closer ties with France. Regardless of who wins, there are some areas in Franco-Germans relations where cooperation will be easier said than done.


The Eurozone and Europe’s Economy

The Eurozone and economic integration have always been causes of friction between Germany and France. Hence why Macron’s commitment to reform the labour market and consolidate the domestic budget has been well received across party lines in Germany.

But his ambitions do not stop at France’s borders: he is also bidding to reshape European policy, finding ways to deepen EU integration and cultivate greater solidarity among member states. He has advocated for a European economics and finance minister for the Eurozone, complete with their own budget to finance mutual investment projects, help member states in need, and offer support in crisis situations.

Such proposals have met with a positive response from Schulz and the SPD: they have thrown their support behind Macron’s bid for common European investment projects and are calling for binding minimum wages across the EU. The conservatives, meanwhile, have thus far distanced themselves from such initiatives – although Merkel has not ruled them out entirely.

Moreover, the new French president welcomes global free trade but has urged Europe to extend anti-dumping regulations, sharpen laws on foreign investment, and integrate environmental and social standards into the EU’s trade agreements. Macron has also called for a Buy European Act that would ensure that public tenders are only awarded to companies that produce at least half their goods in the EU.

Protectionism does not serve Germany well; it has profited from global trade more than any other European country. That is why its main parties have largely rejected linking environmental and social standards to any trade agreements.


Common Defense and Security

At first sight there is far more common ground on common defense and security policy. Even before the vote, Germany’s Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen and her French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian (now Macron’s foreign minister) released a joint policy paper on strengthening the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).

Macron has endorsed many of these recommendations and called for a permanent EU headquarters for civilian and military defense and security operations, PESCO (Permanent Structured Cooperation), as well as closer cooperation on logistics. The SPD has already signaled its approval of many of these proposals.

France suffered a series of major terror attacks in 2015 and 2016 that reshaped its security and counterterrorism policy. Like his predecessor, Macron sees military missions abroad as a key element of counterterrorism and has vowed to carry forward the military’s current engagements along with its partners. That is why Paris is likely to demand more military engagement from Berlin. In Germany, however, opposition to military missions abroad remains significant.

Merkel and Macron believe that military cooperation with the US is still a core element of European defence. Schulz, however, has positioned himself as the anti-Trump candidate, and would seek to untangle defence and security cooperation with Washington. While Merkel and Macron have pledged to ramp up defence spending and meet the two percent GDP target for NATO members, Schulz has argued he will not bow to Trump’s ambitious “rearmament agenda”.


The Refugee Debate and Schengen

Asylum policy will remain a core issue that will require the French and German leaders to work together constructively. Macron has pushed for defensive measures and proposed the fast-tracking of asylum and deportation procedures as well as checkpoints in the refugees’ countries of origin and transit areas.

His proposals are in line with Chancellor Merkel’s strategy. The German leader has launched a campaign to strike deals with countries of origin and transit countries in order to stem the flow of migration. Macron has pledged more development aid as well as to help create opportunities there and battle smuggling operations – proposals welcomed by both the CDU and the SPD.

Besides, France’s president is seeking a fair distribution of refugees across Europe and sanctions levied against member states that refuse to honour their obligation. More “solidarity” in the fair distribution of refugees and migrants has also been championed by Schulz. He has avoided discussing sanctions but has indicated that he would try to link refugee policy with the distribution of funding for agriculture and infrastructure. Merkel has positioned herself against any initiatives to punish uncooperative member states with fines.

Macron has also argued for the need to strengthen the EU’s external borders and suggested making Frontex more robust. Both the CDU and the SPD have also focused on the issue of securing external borders. At the same time, Macron has made it clear that he stands behind the Schengen agreement, championing the free movement of people. This does not prevent him from striving to reform the guidelines for foreign (“posted”) workers, though.


Compromising and Convincing

Both main German parties are keen to work with France’s new president. “Mercron” has the potential for advances in defence and security and with regard to migration policy, whereas eurozone reform and implementing a “social Europe” would be easier with “Schucron.”

However, the next German chancellor and the French president are likely to face major structural hurdles in further strengthening Paris-Berlin ties. Many French voters are still skeptical of an overly powerful EU – and of Germany, the most dominant member, in particular. Macron’s proposals for eurozone reforms are highly unpopular among Germans who are wary of carrying the financial burden while other member states continue to pile up debt.

Paris and Berlin will need to strike clear agreements to show their own citizens that the will to compromise goes both ways. This will be the first step in deepening trust and cooperation for the future of Franco-German relations.


A longer version of this article first appeared in Berlin Policy Journal.


The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security challenges of our time.