The Disengagement of France

BERLIN/PARIS | | frankreich

BERLIN/PARIS (Own report) - The boulevard press has commented the German chancellor's visit to Paris with derisive headlines. One of the Springer publisher's journals bore the headline, "Radiant Victor meets Helpless Hollande," referring to the dramatic economic situation France finds itself in: The country is looking "into the Abyss." Beyond this blatant smear campaign, experts are noting that there is a "disengagement" of the French economy from that of Germany. According to their analysis, Berlin has created significant advantages for the German industry with its "Hartz Reforms" - wage waivers and cuts in social spending. France has not been able to break popular resistance to these kinds of austerity programs. The German-French dichotomy has become so large that "there are growing doubts" about "whether there remains a sufficient basis for German-French cooperation," according to a recent analysis of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP). Observers interpret France's recent decision to repatriate an important detachment of the German-French Brigade from German territory, as further evidence of erosion in the ties between the two countries.

Falling Behind

French experts have begun to openly characterize the uneven economic development of the two countries' economies ( reported [1]) - imposed on Paris by Berlin in the power struggle over the EU's approach to the crisis - as a "disengagement" ("décrochage") of the their country's economy. This is the theme of a recent analysis authored by Henrik Uterwedde, Assistant Director of the German-French Institute in Ludwigsburg, published by the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP). According to this analysis, France is, in fact, "falling further behind." While the German economy is growing, the French is stagnating; while unemployment in Germany has dropped to 5.4 percent since 2009, it has risen to eleven percent in France. Germany's exports are booming and providing the country an enormous growth in foreign trade, whereas France has sunk deep into the minus.[2] According to Uterwedde, French industry is also "losing its impact:" "In 2000, the French industry's added value was still at 50 percent of that of the German industrial added value. A decade later, the relations had sunk to 40 percent."[3] German government advisors have begun to openly acknowledge that Germany's relative clout is increasing, while France is losing "influence."[4]

Wage Waivers: "Cooperation Capacity"

Uterwedde considers that the "Hartz Reforms," initiated by the German SPD-Green Coalition government, had "without a doubt" created advantageous economic conditions for Germany - conditions that ultimately allowed Germany to subordinate its French rival. According to the assistant director of the German-French Institute, the situation in France today, is comparable "in many ways" to the situation in Germany before the implementation of the "Hartz Reforms." However until now, Paris has always postponed the "necessary structural reforms" - if for no other reason, due to "massive political protests." Uterwedde explains that German trade unions have, within the framework of the "Hartz Reforms," de facto, tolerated cuts in wages and social spending.[5] He explains that "enterprise-level alliances to safeguard German production sites and competitiveness" - which, "in numerous major industrial enterprises, had been in negotiation between management and personnel representatives since the 1990s" - have been very successful. The basis of these alliances is "the capacity, available in Germany, to cooperate in resolving problems." In reference to the combativeness of French unions, he points out in his study that "in France" this "capacity for cooperation is only rudimentarily developed."[6]

French Resistance

As a matter of fact, there is broad base criticism in France of neo-liberal cuts, such as the German "Hartz Reforms," which broaden the gap between poverty and wealth and even significantly between the life expectancy of the German poor and wealthy.[7] Uterwedde admits that "substantial segments of French society are politically resisting" neo-liberal measures. "Criticism of German economic predominance and the German policy toward the Euro zone" has now also been added "to the negative appraisal of German economic policy." Criticism of the former has been repeatedly raised in France, for being "too stubbornly oriented toward austerity policies;" imposing "a catastrophic austerity policy onto neighboring countries." The "often expressed hope for a change of government in Berlin, with an accompanying new German political course in its policies toward Europe" have now been dashed. From the ensuing grand coalition, France is expecting, "at best, marginal alterations in German policy." At the government level, France's resistance has proved a failure. "The French president's occasional and rarely successful attempts to forge majorities excluding or even in opposition to Germany, should have now become past history."[8]

Germany's Backyard

Similar misgivings are now being expressed not only in circles of business and financial policymakers, but also in foreign and military policy debates. This can be seen when viewing the history of the EU's foreign policy activities and military interventions, which since the 1990s has been overwhelmingly to serve German interests in Eastern and Southeastern Europe - with wars in Yugoslavia, with EU expansion eastward as well as the "Eastern Partnership," set to be crowned in late November, with the formalization of tighter EU relations to several East European countries and the Caucasus. French interests in Africa were deferred. What former Minister of the Defense Volker Rühe once answered in an interview back in 1994, remains unforgotten: "The Eurocorps is not the Afrikakorps,"[9] nor that Berlin helped the Union for the Mediterranean to be a failure.[10] Two years ago, according to a German government advisor, France was growing weaker in its traditional sphere of influence in Africa; in the long run, "the distance between Paris and the Mediterranean countries" could "grow even larger."[11] Germany's development in relationship to its traditional spheres of influence in Eastern and Southeastern Europe is taking the opposite direction.

The German-French Brigade

This forms the backdrop to Paris' drastic measures taken in late October regarding the German-French Brigade, whose founding dates back to the 1987 accords reached between Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand. The brigade was formed in 1989 - as a symbol of German-French "reconciliation." France has repeatedly sought to deploy the brigade, while Germany had consistently blocked it - not for peace-loving reasons, but because it wages wars only in its own interests, not in support of French interests. Now, Paris has officially announced that, due to inevitable budgetary constraints, the 110th Infantry Regiment will be repatriated from its base in Donaueschingen (Baden Wurttemberg). The 110th Infantry Regiment is an important detachment of the German-French Brigade. However, recognition that in the bi-national project, the German partner is solely pursuing its own interests and a balance does not figure into the concept, has also played a role in France's decision to withdraw its troops. Observers have noted that France has not sacrificed at the altar of budgetary constraints its military bases in its former colonies. Germany's brute imposition of its interests has led to cuts in bi-lateral projects - such as in the case of the German-French Brigade.


In reference to the economic and financial policy issues, Henrik Uterwedde recently noted that "doubts are growing about whether there remains a sufficient basis for German-French cooperation."[12] These doubts have long since settled in on many other areas of policymaking - one of the results of the brachial imposition of German predominance.

[1] see also In the Advantage, Germanic Stringency and Breaking a Taboo
[2] see also Hartz IV for Everyone
[3] Henrik Uterwedde: Ende der Divergenzen? Perspektiven der deutschen und französischen Wirtschaftspolitik, DGAPanalyse No. 11, November 2013
[4] see also Domination over Europe
[5] see also Sparen für Deutschland
[6] Henrik Uterwedde: Ende der Divergenzen? Perspektiven der deutschen und französischen Wirtschaftspolitik, DGAPanalyse No. 11, November 2013
[7] Soziale Schere geht weiter auseinander - Arme sterben fünf Jahre früher als Reiche; 10.10.2013
[8] Henrik Uterwedde: Ende der Divergenzen? Perspektiven der deutschen und französischen Wirtschaftspolitik, DGAPanalyse No. 11, November 2013
[9] see also A Country Teetering on the Brink
[10] see also Kein Gegenpol
[11] see also Kulturkämpfe
[12] Henrik Uterwedde: Ende der Divergenzen? Perspektiven der deutschen und französischen Wirtschaftspolitik, DGAPanalyse No. 11, November 2013