New Confrontations (II)

BERLIN/PARIS (Own report) - France continues to push back against German dominance in the EU. After his first open refusals to comply with major German demands, French President Emmanuel Macron has announced that he does not support Germany's candidate, Manfred Weber (CSU), as successor to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. He also advocates climate policy initiatives that run counter to the interests of the German automotive industry. Macron publicly announced "confrontations" with Germany, already at the end of April. Paris is now also preparing foreign policy projects that collide with German concepts. For example, it has launched a new offensive to gain influence in Southeast Europe, a region Berlin considers its exclusive hegemonic sphere of influence. France is also turning its focus more toward North Africa. Macron can benefit from the fact that following the Brexit, Germany will no longer have a blocking minority to thwart efforts to push back Berlin's austerity dictates.

Only Limited Loyalty

At the end of April, French President Emmanuel Macron publicly announced new "confrontations" with Germany, as the German government had consistently demanded French loyalty, while imposing its interests onto the EU, and, just as consistently, had thwarted Parisian initiatives promoting French interests. ( reported.[1]) Having had no success in his European policy, due to Berlin's blockade, and with his back to the wall, in his domestic policy, Macron began in February to refuse the loyalty Berlin had long been accustomed to. He unexpectedly withdrew his support for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline - a heavy blow for Berlin, which hopes to significantly benefit from the gas pipeline.[2]

Opposing Germany's "Spitzenkandidat"

In May, Macron continued the policy of confrontation, he had publicly announced in April. At last Thursday's informal EU summit in Sibiu, Paris proposed a new climate policy initiative, demanding that the EU reduce its CO2 emissions faster than planned until l2030, to achieve decarbonization "by 2050, at the latest." As expected, the initiative, which the French president had coordinated with seven other EU countries, however without Germany, did not pass. Berlin refused its support, out of consideration for the German automotive industry. With the backing also of Luxemburg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, Macron opposed the principle that only one of the top candidates of the EU party families can be elected as successor of EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. "I don't feel bound at all by the principle of the Spitzenkandidat," Macron declared in Sibiu.[3] This is obviously a rebuke of Manfred Weber (CSU), the "Spitzenkandidat" (top candidate) of the European People's Party (EPP) Parliamentary Group, which probably will emerge as the largest group from the EU parliamentary elections at the end of May.

In Germany's Hegemonic Sphere

Macron's resistance to German dominance is not only in the sphere of European policy, but extends also to classical foreign policy. For example, on April 30, the French government announced a new Southeast Europe Strategy, pertaining to new activities involving the six non-EU countries of that region,[4] where not only an expansion of political, but also economic relations are planned. Paris is earmarking an initial €100 - 150 million for development resources. Particularly military cooperation should be intensified. Alongside increased training in France for officers of Southeast Europe, the inclusion of regional military personnel in French military missions is also planned.[5] During her visit to Serbia in February, France's Minister for European Affairs, at the time, Nathalie Loiseaux, signed a detailed agreement for closer economic cooperation.

Old Alliances

With its Southeast Europe initiative, France is not only becoming active in a region Germany has traditionally considered its preferential sphere of influence. It is also renewing its ties to former allies in opposition to German hegemony. This is why Serbia is a priority in France's Southeast Europe policy. In March, shortly following the minister for European affairs' visit to Belgrade, France's ministry for foreign affairs published a declaration noting the long-standing French-Serbian cooperation since 1838.[6] That cooperation has massively suffered since the 1990s, when Germany pitted the entire EU against Serbia - even including warfare. Paris had sought to thwart the escalation of Bonn's aggression, to no avail. ( reported.[7]) Macron plans to visit Belgrade in July. Paris is thereby renewing its traditional Southeast Europe policy - in opposition to Berlin.

Counterweight to the Eastward Expansion

The same applies to its Mediterranean policy. A little more than a decade ago, France's president at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy sought to establish a counterweight to the one-sided EU orientation in relationship to East and Southeast Europe. Earlier, the means and capacity of the Union's expansion eastward were primarily expended in Germany's traditional spheres of influence in the east of the continent, thereby providing Germany a clear political and economic advantage. With the founding of the Mediterranean Union, Sarkozy was seeking to establish a counterweight with France's traditional North African and Middle Eastern spheres of influence.[8] Berlin systematically thwarted that project. Now, Macron has revived Sarkozy's idea. In about six weeks (June 23 – 24) a summit will be held in Marseille ("Sommet des deux rives," "Two Shores Summit "), aimed at intensifying cooperation between the five South European countries (France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Malta) with five of the North African countries (Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya). Macron is explicitly building on Sarkozy's plans.

No More Blocking Minority

Paris is boosted by the prospect that following the Brexit, Berlin will no longer have a blocking minority in defense of its austerity policy, a fact that the former director of the Munich-based Institute for Economic Research (ifo) Hans-Werner Sinn has repeatedly pointed out. The prerequisite for a blocking minority is at least 4 countries containing at least 35 percent of the EU's population. In the dispute over the Berlin-inspired budget cuts, Germany could always count on Great Britain, Sinn notes. "With the British, the northern EU countries always had 38 percent in opposition to the southern countries. Without the British, they only have 30 percent."[9] France, which had always opposed Berlin's austerity dictate, to no avail, now has the chance, in alliance, above all, with the other southern European countries, to be able to at least loosen somewhat Berlin's relentless grasp on France's economy.


[1] See also New Confrontations.

[2] See also The Power of the Pipes.

[3] Matthias Kolb, Alexander Mühlauer: Macron schmiedet Pakt gegen Weber. 13.05.2019.

[4] Es handelt sich um Albanien, Bosnien-Herzegowina, Mazedonien, Montenegro, Serbien und die illegal von Serbien abgespaltene Provinz Kosovo.

[5] Stratégie française pour les Balkans occidentaux. mai 2019.

[6] Commémoration des 180 ans des relations diplomatiques entre la France et la Serbie.

[7] See also No Tandem.

[8] See also In the Shadows.

[9] Florian Schwiegershausen: "Brexit ist ein Zeichen der Dummheit". 04.12.2018.