Behind a facade of unity, Franco-German relations run out of steam as the crisis mounts – Opinion

When Germany unveiled a 200 billion euro ($200 billion) package to protect its industry and consumers from soaring energy prices, its government failed to inform neighboring France beforehand, leaving French President Emmanuel Macron seething privately.

“We learned about it in the press. This is not the done thing,” said a senior French official.

German officials had visited the Elysee Palace days earlier and said nothing about the package, according to Paris, which gives an unfair advantage to German companies and threatens the European Union’s single market.

The number of issues on which France and Germany – the EU’s two wealthiest and most influential members – disagree is growing, from the bloc’s defense strategy to its response to the energy crisis, to relations with China and even fiscal policy.

The standoff comes as the EU struggles to reach an agreement on whether to cap gas prices in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

It also impacts Europe’s plans to build its next generation of fighter jets, gas pipeline plans across the EU, German plans to let China invest in its ports.

Macron’s decision last week to postpone a joint cabinet meeting underscored the French president’s frustration. Berlin blamed logistical difficulties and downplayed the divide.

Admittedly, the Franco-German couple had its ups and downs and divorce never followed.

But Europe cannot afford a rift in relations that weakens EU unity as it battles multiple crises: Russia’s war on its eastern fringe, runaway inflation and its largest economies on the verge of recession.

“The goal is to make Berlin understand that there is a problem,” said the senior French official.

But beyond the various files that have plagued French and German diplomats for years, a clash of personalities, a rivalry for European leadership and wider strategic differences are now coming to light, despite efforts to maintain a facade of unity, the French and the According to German sources.

Macron found it baffling that Scholz showed little interest in investing personal time with his French counterpart, unlike his predecessor, Angela Merkel, and instead cultivated ties with the leaders of Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands. .

“Macron and Merkel exchanged text messages every day. Scholz doesn’t talk to Macron every day. We even had trouble getting them to meet in person,” the French official said. Personal chemistry between the lowly German leader and the more flamboyant French president, diplomats say the two leaders disagree on the strategic lessons to be learned from the war in Ukraine.

After warning Germany in vain of the risk of overdependence on Russia for its gas, Macron feels vindicated in his efforts to strengthen European autonomy, from energy to electricity. defense and trade, according to French officials.

Scholz’s decision to allow a Chinese company to take a stake in its largest port and pursue what the French say is a short-sighted mercantilist policy toward China has baffled Paris.

“They still haven’t learned their lesson,” said another French official.

German officials say they are aware they need to reduce their reliance on China, but add that this should not mean a ban on all Chinese investment in Europe.

On defence, Berlin’s decision to launch a European air defense system with 14 countries, including Britain but not France – the EU’s most important military power – was the last straw, said French officials.Reuters

James R. Rhodes