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The Franco-German relationship: a vase from China

The postponement of the Franco-German Council of Ministers scheduled for October 26 formalizes the quarrel that has been simmering for several months between Paris and Berlin. The subjects of tension – the “irritants” as the diplomats say – have in fact ceased to multiply since the coming to power of Olaf Scholz, which is moreover in areas as important as defense and energy.

Whether it’s cooperation for the development of new weapon systems – combat aircraft of the future, tank of the future, Eurodrone, etc – or the fund set up by Germany to buy military equipment – above all. .. American – the defense relationship has long been a source of multiple tensions. The announcement by Olaf Scholz, on October 13, of the launch of an anti-missile shield project bringing together fourteen NATO countries under the aegis of Germany, set fire to the powder in Paris, for a long time reluctant to this type of project which she considers weakens the concept of deterrence. The nervousness, even the bitterness, is all the stronger in France than the Zeitenwende posed by the German Chancellor as soon as he came to power, this change of era which saw Germany finally agree to look at the world with strategic glasses, this turning point, Paris had been advocating for a long time. Emmanuel Macron could be proud of having brought Germany to his views.

Two gigantic failures

In energy, the tensions are just as strong even if the context is radically different. The energy crisis which is weakening Europe is both the consequence and the indicator of two gigantic failures on either side of the Rhine. On the French side, it is the result of a lack of anticipation, of a culpable wait-and-see attitude which today reduces France, once a major power in electricity, to counting on its neighbors to guarantee its supply and condemns it for many long years of having to give up relying on the spearhead of what was the symbol of its “radiance” (Gabrielle Hecht): its nuclear program. On the German side, the energy crisis is, on the contrary, the fruit of a long-term vision based on anticipations, of which the Russian attack against Ukraine on 24 February 2014 revealed the character, as you choose, naive or cynical: the Germans came to believe their own story that “the Russians will always deliver the gas because, even at the height of the Cold War, they never stopped doing so, and that “Nordstream 2 was an exclusively commercial project “. Let us add to this reek of energy Ostpolitik carried, in the first place, by the party of Olaf Scholz, the very Russophile SPD, another slogan which wanted that “nuclear energy is an energy of the past”. A slogan that obviously was not current when Siemens, having just left its alliance with AREVA NP – today Framatome – in 2009, announced its marriage with Rosatom, the armed wing of the Kremlin in nuclear matters, marriage then blessed by Angela Merkel.. The same which, after Fukushima, for reasons irrational in terms of energy or climate but devilishly rational on a political level, decided to throw nuclear power to the nettles and to embark, in Brussels and throughout Europe, on an anti-nuclear crusade.

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This traditional irritant of the Franco-German energy relationship is now doubled by a second, on hydrogen. You should read the speech delivered in Prague on August 29, in which Olaf Scholz advocates a major European hydrogen transport network which, replacing the gas network in the future, would connect not only European countries to each other but also the Europe to its neighbors to the south of the Mediterranean, suppliers of green hydrogen produced from solar or wind power. At the Fraunhofer Institute, we are already calculating the comparative costs of hydrogen produced in northern Germany from offshore wind farms and hydrogen imported from Tunisia… Emmanuel Macron’s response, 5 September, in Paris, in the presence of his German counterpart, was scathing, already suggesting a break: such a project is absurd and France has no intention of becoming a country of transit, gas or hydrogen, between the countries of the Mediterranean and improvident Germany.

A confrontation neither lasting nor desirable

In such a context, it is needless to point out that the recent German decision to support its economy weakened by the withdrawal of Russian gas to the tune of 200 billion euros, de facto creating a massive competitive advantage for its companies, has not at all appreciated in Paris – as in Brussels or Rome for that matter. A position that annoys Berlin: Europe had its version of “whatever it takes” during the health crisis, carried by a European central bank ready to run the printing press; Paris has taken it over on its own, in cicada mode (taxpayers and their children will pay); why wouldn’t Berlin the ant have the right to release its 2022 version of “whatever the cost” when it is a question of saving the apple of its eye, the engine of its growth, its industry?

However structuring and fundamental the subjects of tension between France and Germany may be, this confrontation is neither lasting nor desirable. Admittedly, Berlin and Paris have already experienced estrangements, as in 2000, but then Europe was not experiencing, on its soil, the most serious conflict since the Second World War. Admittedly, Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz do not have spontaneously compatible characters, and that is an understatement… Admittedly, they must govern in political configurations that have little in common, one having a personal conception of the exercise of power, which the institutions allow him, the other having a coalition contract to respect with ecological partners impervious to any rational reasoning on nuclear power. But they have one thing in common: they are weak. Weak at home, for political, energy and industrial reasons; weak in Europe, while the management by Berlin and Paris of the war in Ukraine is rapidly eroding the power of the Franco-German couple and the confidence, in Central and Eastern Europe, in the Union’s ability to respond jointly to their challenge of security. French and German leaders must therefore put their egos aside and make compromises. And above all, they must, as Michel Duclos recently proposed in a note from the Institut Montaigne, have the humility to do something that is not natural to them: listen. Emmanuel Macron must go to Riga, to Vilnius, to Warsaw to listen, really listen.

Europe today resembles the unhappy families evoked by Tolstoy in the first sentence of Anna Karenina: “all happy families are alike, unhappy families are each in their own way”. May misfortune here take on the face of the most crass and vulgar right or left populism, including at the heart of republican institutions, there that of a once triumphant industry now on borrowed time, there again inflation galloping or massive disinformation led by Russia, it carries within itself the same germ: that of the deconstruction of Europe. When what was then still the colonies of America began to rumble against the yoke of the English crown, Benjamin Franklin said of the British Empire that it was a “vase of China”: magnificent, precious… But impossible to reconstruct once broken. Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz, like all European leaders, should offer each other a vase of China and look at it every day, remembering that the main threat facing Europe today does not come from Moscow or Washington. not from Beijing, but from themselves.


Robin Rivaton’s Chronicle

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