All eyes on the Franco-German relationship by Joschka Fischer

If the Franco-German axis has long been at the heart of European construction, it has also always been characterized by quarrels and even severe heartbreaks. Yet now that Russia has come to pose a persistent threat to European security, the health of this ancient relationship has become more important than ever.

BERLIN – It is a common human prejudice to believe that everything was better in the past. But this bias rarely stands up to scrutiny, and perceptions of past Franco-German relations are no exception. If the bilateral relationship has long been of the utmost importance for Europe, it has also always been characterized by quarrels, even serious heartbreaks.

The mythologizing is understandable. The Franco-German relationship was the original foundation of the European Union, which began as a coal and steel community in the early 1950s, and is still the central axis of the EU. Without France and Germany – the most important players, the most important economically and politically, embodying the balance between the European North and the Mediterranean South – no real progress towards European integration would have been possible.

But with its enlargement in 2004, the internal workings of the EU became more complicated, as a new dimension was added to the traditional north-south orientation: Central and Eastern Europe. The importance of this region has only grown now that Russian President Vladimir Putin has invaded a sovereign neighboring country and brought full-scale war back to the continent.

Whatever the course of this conflict, there has been an irreversible loss of trust between Europe and Russia. Putin’s aggression radically changed the strategic calculus and created the conditions for a new kind of Cold War in Central and Eastern Europe. His Russia poses a predictable long-term threat that will force the EU and its member states to invest much more in their self-defense capacity, their liberal democratic system and their principles through military means.

In short, the EU must transform itself into a sovereign geopolitical actor with its own military deterrent capability to defend its interests. This challenge applies first and foremost to Germany, and not just because it is the most populous member state and largest economy, residing in the heart of Europe. Equally relevant is his own gruesome 20th century story. It was Germany that twice lit the torch for the European continent, committing unprecedented crimes under Hitler until its unconditional surrender and partition.

The main aggressor of the first half of the 20th century then turned into a country of peaceful traders and industrialists. Renouncing war and pursuing a pacifist policy deeply rooted in its people, Germany became a world champion in exports. Over time, this post-war trajectory allowed him to build bonds of trust with his former enemies, a prerequisite for the peaceful reunification of 1990.

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But Putin’s war of aggression has shattered the illusion that Germany can remain a peaceful trading nation indefinitely. After 30 years of relative peace and stability, Europe is again under direct military threat. As the strongest economic power in the EU, Germany will have to say goodbye to pacifism and start rearming, effectively converting its economic power into a strategic currency.

The country has already moved in this direction. In his “Zeitenwende” (decisive moment) At the end of February, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a new special fund of 100 billion euros (99 billion dollars) for the German army, then followed up with a package of 200 billion euros for mitigate the shock of soaring energy prices. But make no mistake: this new Germany will inevitably be viewed with suspicion by its neighbours, notably France.

As the EU’s only nuclear power and its only member state with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council (two things Germany neither wants nor will ever achieve), France is clearly wary of the new Germany’s emerging role. It is still unclear what kind of Europe the new Germany wants, and this uncertainty has created unnecessary insecurity. The German government‘s displays of incompetence and lack of coordination after Scholz’s speech did not help matters.

Too much mistrust between France and Germany could lead to misunderstandings and unforced errors on both sides, giving rise to real conflicts that will further jeopardize European security. With a large-scale ground war on its border, exactly the opposite is needed: much closer cooperation and collaboration between the EU’s two biggest players, especially in the area of ​​weapons projects. spouses.

The situation has been further complicated by the shift of the EU’s center of gravity eastward and by the EU’s new promise to extend membership to Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. These new accession processes will accelerate the transformation of the EU from a common market and modernization project into a geopolitical player. Moreover, there are long-standing and still unfulfilled promises of membership to the Western Balkan countries – not to mention the extremely complex Turkish question. Bringing these countries together is now clearly in Europe’s overriding strategic interest.

These regions, along with the Eastern Mediterranean and North and West Africa, will be at the heart of European security concerns in the decades to come. Europe will have to engage alongside them, while working closely with its transatlantic partners through a strong NATO. The ability of the EU to achieve this will depend first on France and Germany, who must still work together in friendship and good faith, despite disagreements and new complications, and cooperate with all Europeans to support their common project.

James R. Rhodes