In the Advantage

PARIS/BERLIN | | frankreich

PARIS/BERLIN (Own report) - The German-French Council of Ministers meeting next Thursday is marked by persisting tensions between the two countries. The differences between the French and German governments include central questions of the economy and foreign expansion. Paris has been seeing itself at a disadvantage and, for quite awhile, has been insisting on high-level consultations to determine how to handle the procedure at EU level. Also at issue is the rapid rise of the People's Republic of China, which in French business circles has led to warnings of Europe's "downgrading". It will only be possible to meet this challenge with the support of a strong EU, explained the French Minister for European Affairs. France must quickly put "the European machine" to use "to protect its interests." Because Germany has the same intentions, but other priorities, no accord has been reached between the two governments - to the disadvantage of the weaker, in this case, France.

Paris' Initiative

As the German-French Council of Ministers, founded in January 2003, approaches its twelfth session Thursday in Paris, the French government has been lobbying for bilateral agreements on diverse political issues. Already back in late 2009, Paris had launched initiatives aimed at achieving close coordination with Berlin. One proposition was the establishment of a Minister for German-French Relations, a suggestion the German government brushed aside, annoyed. To boost German-French cooperation, the French Minister for European Affairs, Pierre Lellouche has, in collaboration with Germany's State Minister in the Foreign Ministry, Werner Hoyer, established a list of 16 "lighthouse suggestions" and 40 "concrete initiatives," for this year's commemoration of the signing of the Elysée Treaty - January 22, 1963. The list is being kept secret. During the German-French Council of Ministers, Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy will announce their choices of the suggestions and initiatives to be implemented.[1] The fact that the French media is very attentively reporting on the paper and the German media hardly mentioning it is an indication that Berlin ascribes little significance to this list initiated by Paris.

Production Profits

Paris and Berlin also have economic differences. For some time, French enterprises have been complaining of the disadvantages of the German low-wage policy. When German exports increase, because of the falling costs of production, their competitors lose abroad. "Germany's production profits mean production losses for the other European countries," is how the situation is described in business circles. ( reported.[2]) In fact, France's trade deficit with Germany rose in 2008 to the all-time high of 18.6 billion Euros.[3] A German-French business dispute persists within the EADS Corp. It has recently taken the form of disputes over the military transporter Airbus A400M, which Merkel and Sarkozy are to try to clarify on Thursday.[4] The Siemens and Areva dispute provides a third example of power struggles over business advantages. Siemens had announced a while ago that it was ceasing its cooperation with Areva to enter cooperation with Atomenergoprom (in Russia).[5] Areva, fearing the German-Russian competition, is balking at the loss of its German partner. This is not an unusual procedure. The German side has the advantage, since it has access to alternatives to cooperation with core European countries.


Accompanying the economic disputes are political differences over priorities for expansion abroad, which are now becoming virulent, because of the establishment of the European External Action Services in April. Berlin and Paris have been in dispute over the European Africa policy. Most recently Berlin was able to thwart Paris' project of an EU intervention in Chad.[6] Larger-scaled disputes were over the Mediterranean Union, which Germany systematically undermined, it being mainly in France's interests.[7] The most recent example of variations in German - French priorities are the efforts to have influence in Haiti. Whereas Paris has launched extensive activities, including seeking, to dispatch Gendarmes to the country, Berlin has been holding back on developing its own projects. Haiti, having been a French colony, is still counted within France's direct sphere of interests.

Threat of Marginalization

German-French dissention, even on key issues, is not new. But, faced with China's rapid ascension, Paris is lobbying for reaching agreements soon. French business circles fear they will fall far behind East Asia and the USA in the years to come. The French business press is explicitly warning that Europe could be "downgraded".[8] In an article written for a French magazine, Pierre Lellouche, the French Minister for European Affairs insists that even though he doesn't want to seem a prophet of doom, Europe is indeed threatened with "marginalization,"[9] whose decline could only be prevented if the EU acts quickly and decisively. But this would mean that the two main powers, Germany and France, pull together. "This is why the upcoming German - French Council of Ministers is so important" writes Lellouche.[10]

The European Machine

Lellouche leaves no doubt that Paris seeks to impose its interests and declares that he considers his task to go beyond "transmitting the French government's positions to Brussels." "Alongside the President of the Republic," he would also like to induce France "to make use of the European machine for the defense of its interests."[11] In other words, Paris is declaring that it seeks to apply a policy, Berlin has always pursued - to use Brussels as a vehicle for imposing its interests. Commentators are advising Germany to accept arrangements on Thursday that, while serving French interests, are also useful to Germany- as a quasi compromise. But one should not expect that Paris could impose its projects, if they run counter to German plans.

[1] Seize "propositions phares" pour dynamiser la relation franco-allemande; Le Monde 23.01.2010
[2] s. dazu Zweite Liga
[3] Frankreich: Beziehungen zu Deutschland;
[4] see also More Influence Than Ever, Transatlantic Axis and Kernfähigkeit Rüstung
[5] see also Dangerous Frictions and Nuclear Alliance
[6] see also Hegemonic Rivalry and Transatlantic Front
[7] see also In the Shadows and Kein Gegenpol
[8] L'Europe sous cloche; Les Echos 15.01.2010
[9], [10] Pierre Lellouche: Pour éviter le déclassement de l'Europe; Les Echos 27.01.2010
[11] Lellouche: "Pour une relance franco-allemande"; Le Figaro 22.01.2010