France-Germany: why relations have become so tense between the two countries

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No idyll in Franco-German relations: several problems have come to weigh down relations between the two countries, which for the moment are still tense.

Nothing goes well between Paris and Berlin: against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis, the two countries make decisions that irritate each other and are difficult to reconcile. The expedition summarizes for you the reasons why the driving force of the European Union (EU) is faltering.

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A Ukrainian file that revives security problems

The outbreak of the war in Ukraine was the occasion for a strong response from EU members, through the delivery of equipment to Ukraine and the phasing out of Russian raw material imports. But errors in cooperation on various European armaments projects are on the rise.

At the center of the recent controversy is the announcement of a European air defense program led by Germany and excluding France. Germany intends to obtain foreign systems such as the Israeli Arrow 3 rather than the Franco-Italian Mamba for its anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense.

And these are not the first Franco-German disagreements: the future air combat system (SCAF) and the main ground combat system (MGCS) are at a standstill. These plans for the development of state-of-the-art air and armored weapons are now being questioned by the German Chief of Staff. The latter announced on 12 September according to BFMTV that he did not want “the development of European solutions that, in the end, do not work”. The MAWS maritime patrol aircraft project was simply abandoned in 2021 following Germany’s announcement of the purchase of American Boeing aircraft.

We can also mention the announcement of a special fund of 100 billion to revitalize the German army, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The equipment the Bundeswehr intends to procure is largely American, with the F-35A and CH-47 Chinook – another wedge of European unity in terms of defense.

The fundamental energy divergence

The two countries have had an opposite position on the energy sector for years: Germany has chosen to give up its nuclear power plants, of which only three are still in operation, following the Fukushima disaster. A choice contrary to that of France, which for the moment maintains a large nuclear fleet and even wants to increase it.

The tensions on the matter have been so strong that the annual Franco-German Council of Ministers, to be held on 26 October, has been canceled. Emmanuel Macron also criticized the German positions before the European energy summit on 12 October: “I think it is not good for Germany or for Europe that it isolates itself. […] Our role is to do everything to ensure that there is European unity and that Germany is part of it, “he said.

In sight, the announcement of a German 200 billion euro plan to protect its consumers, without consulting European partners, and which could weaken countries unable to spend such sums. “It is always better to consult, to coordinate”, launched the French president, visibly left aside.

“It is very clear that Germany has always acted in a very united way”, replied Olaf Scholz according to our French colleagues24. Paris, for its part, has definitively buried the MidCat project, replaced by a Barcelona-Marseille submarine pipeline, BarMar.

Towards a way out of the crisis?

But the last European energy summit was an opportunity to try to renew ties and find solutions to couple differences. “We now have a very good timetable,” announced European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The “Iberian model”, a mechanism used by Spain and Portugal to limit gas prices, could be considered at the European level, despite German reluctance.

The two European leaders also indicated that their discussions were positive: “The cooperation between Germany and France, as well as between the Chancellor and the President, is intense and fruitful,” explained Olaf Scholz on the night of 20 to 21 October. Emmanuel Macron, for his part, welcomed a meeting that “allowed us to clarify many things”. A final point of exit from the crisis could come on October 26, when Macron will receive Scholz in Paris.

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