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Olaf Scholz in Paris: is the “Franco-German couple” in a state of clinical death?

In Paris, he will try to repair the broken pots of recent months, while the bilateral relationship remains to be built. Olaf Scholz, who annoys his European partners in Brussels because of his lack of dialogue, will have a good talk this Wednesday, October 26 with Emmanuel Macron, despite the postponement of a summit between France and Germany which caused many ‘ink. But we are still far from a new “couple” or a revival of the Franco-German “engine”.

So far, the Chancellor has completely ignored France’s concerns. In fact, during his last general policy speech to the Federal Assembly (Bundestag), last week, Scholz did not mention the Franco-German couple once. “In his speech on Europe in Prague on August 29, he did not mention France either, nor the Franco-German armament projects, recalls Frank Baasner, director of the Franco-German Institute in Ludwigsburg (DFI). A real slap in the face for Paris.” On the other hand, he did not hesitate to underline that “the center of Europe will move towards the East”, as the European Union expands.

If nuclear remains a source of permanent conflict, disputes between Paris and Berlin have multiplied to the point of publicly exasperating the Elysée. The investments of 100 billion planned for the Bundeswehr (German army) do not fall within the framework of European defense sovereignty as Emmanuel Macron would like. And his anti-aircraft shield project using American and Israeli equipment, and bringing together 14 European countries, does not include France, which is not associated with it. Scholz has also tried to relaunch, without notifying Paris, the MidCat gas pipeline project which crosses the Pyrenees and which could deliver Spanish gas to Germany.

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He will also have to explain to the French president why he did not warn him before the announcement of the plan of 200 billion in aid to businesses and households. “His communication vis-à-vis his European partners is lamentable,” criticizes Gunther Krichbaum, spokesman for the conservative group in the Federal Assembly (Bundestag) for European issues.

A necessary time to adapt

But Scholz and Macron know each other and their estrangement could dissipate. In Paris, the first will repeat to the second that Germany has no interest in going it alone. Moreover, if we refer to history, each time a new Chancellor or a new French President is elected, there is always a period of adaptation of a few months before the current really passes between Paris and Berlin (or Bonn, formerly). The Schmidt-Giscard, Kohl-Mitterrand, Schröder-Chirac and Merkel-Sarkozy couples all experienced periods of tension, until both partners understood that it was impossible to do without each other .

Since his accession Olaf Scholz has focused on domestic policy to the detriment of European policy. Its tripartite coalition (social democrats, ecologists and liberals) which emerged from the polls in 2021 had to revise all its plans due to the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis. The postponement of the abandonment of nuclear power, even very symbolic, triggered an initial government crisis which forced the Chancellor to force through with a “German-style 49-3” (Richtlinienkompetenz), the ecologists and the liberals (FDP ) failing to agree on the number of plants to keep running until spring. “The chancellor has no authority,” attacked Friedrich Merz, the leader of the conservative opposition (CDU).

According to polls, two-thirds of Germans are unhappy with the way Olaf Scholz governs. The latter decides without consulting, which causes friction in the population but also within his own government. By supporting a Chinese stake in the operation of a terminal in the port of Hamburg, of which he was mayor, Scholz is displaying rather unpopular liberal positions at a time when the Europeans are demanding more sovereignty in critical infrastructures. Despite opposition from six government ministers, Olaf Scholz has not given up on the idea as he flies to Beijing for an official trip to China at the end of next week.


Robin Rivaton’s Chronicle

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