"To the Second League"

Chancellor Merkel receives President Emmanuel Macron in the German town of Meseberg. France falls further behind Germany during the crisis.

BERLIN/PARIS (Own report) - German Chancellor Merkel will host French President Emmanuel Macron today to discuss the German EU Council Presidency, which begins on Wednesday, and the European Economic Recovery Plan. The meeting is to suggest a stable Franco-German cohesion in combating the COVID-19 crisis. In fact, France is much more affected by the crisis than Germany. France benefits comparatively little from the EU Recovery Plan and is falling further behind in the inner-European power struggle with Germany. France is at risk of being relegated "to the second league" according to French commentators. Also in view of the 89th anniversary of the German invasion of France, Macron recently reported that he was currently studying the analysis " L'Ètrange Défaite" (The Strange Defeat), written by French historian Marc Bloch in 1940, on the reasons for the French defeat in World War II. With reference to the shared history of the war, Paris and London are intensifying their cooperation.

Consultation in Meseberg

Today's meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron in the Meseberg Castle is considered to be of considerable symbolic importance. In light of the German EU Council Presidency beginning Wednesday, under which important decisions must be made to combat the Covid-19 crisis, the meeting is intended to demonstrate an alleged Franco-German cohesion. The discussion will focus mainly on EU finances and the planned measures to stimulate the economy in the aftermath of the crisis. Meseberg, however, also symbolizes the fact that for many years Berlin has not taken into account French interests in the EU, if they did not conform to German interests. Their previous Meseberg meeting gave an example. At the Franco-German Council of Ministers on June 19, 2018, Berlin successfully undermined Macron's resolute attempts to establish a eurozone budget and a finance minister.[1] Both measures would have helped to stabilize the eurozone, but were - and are still - rejected by the German government. This could entail the German government having to allocate more funds, than previously, to the poorer countries of the southern eurozone. Berlin rejects this.

A Difficult Position

Prior to today's meeting, France finds itself in an extremely difficult position. The Covid-19 crisis has affected its economy significantly harder than the economy of most other EU countries, particularly that of Germany. According to current OECD estimates, the French economic output will plummet by 11.4 percent this year, more than in any other EU country. With its minus of 6.6 percent, Germany is one of the least affected EU members.[2] A second pandemic outbreak - according to the OECD - would shrink the German economy by another 8.8 percent, the French by as much as 14.4 percent. Only the Spanish economy would be more affected with a minus of 14.4 percent. Due to its heavy debts - probably reaching over 120 percent of the economic output this year [3] - Paris has much less leeway than Berlin to support its enterprises with economic stimulus programs. At the same time, Paris will benefit significantly less from the Recovery Plan than, for example, Italy and Spain and only slightly more than Germany, the EU Commission estimates. France should receive nearly €39 billion in subsidies, Italy €82 and Spain €77 billion. Germany can hope for nearly €29 billion.

Germany with an Advantage

Over the past few years, Paris has been expending great efforts to overcome Berlin*s domination of the EU. President Macron had outlined his key objectives in his famous speech at the Sorbonne in September 2017. Though Paris has essentially failed to reach these objectives due to the German government's resistance,[4] France was, however, at least able to economically somewhat close the gap, last year. Whereas the German economy, with its 0.6 percent growth was stagnating, the French economy grew by 1.3 percent. This - comparatively weak - step upward will now be obliterated, due to the fact that Germany exits the crisis in considerably better condition. Germany has "protected its enterprises better than France," according to the French press. In terms of the post-pandemic situation, Germany has a clear advantage.[5] It may push France down "to the second league."[6]

L'étrange défaite

In France, the clearly looming renewed setback in relationship to Germany is provoking history-laden parallels being drawn to the German invasion 80 years ago - May 10, 1940. In the public debate, according to one recent report, "parallels are being drawn to the 1940 invasion of France by German troops," which the Reich had been able to accomplish, in spite of France having "felt defended behind its Maginot line."[7] Though France's Finance Minister, Bruno Le Maire rejects such comparisons, Macron declared that he has " L'Ètrange Défaite" as bedtime reading. " L'étrange défaite" ("The Strange Defeat") - written by the French historian, Marc Bloch (killed June 16, 1944 by the Gestapo) seeks to analyze the reasons behind France's rapid defeat in the war. Comparisons were also drawn to the French defeat in the war of 1870/71. According to the historian Mona Ozouf, for example, the historian Claude Digeon's 1959 book "La Crise allemande de la pensée française" (The German Crisis of French Thought), which analyzes the French debate from 1871 on, raises "questions" that "we are still asking ourselves."[8] It is reported that "in the Elysée Palace, people like to make reference to Digeons book, to explain the mood of disaster in the waning days of the epidemic."[9]

Anglo-French Alliances

Macron's recent visit to London also has a historical basis: the commemoration of Charles de Gaulle's famous June 18, 1940 speech. From his exile in the British capital, de Gaulle issued a call to arms over the BBC against the German occupier: "No matter what happens, the flame of French resistance must not die, and it will not die!" In his talks with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, President Emmanuel Macron discussed not only the progress of the Brexit negotiations, but also joint Franco-British initiatives in foreign policy, the expansion of the bi-lateral Franco-British military cooperation, launched November 2, 2010 with the "Lancaster House Treaties." During the signing of the treaties, Britain's prime minister at the time, David Cameron, explicitly pointed to Britain and France having "a shared history through two World Wars."[10] In Berlin, the reference to the 1904 "Entente Cordiale" directed against Germany, was also interpreted as seeking to create a new "Entente Cordiale" in opposition to Germany's domination of today's Europe.[11] The tenth anniversary of the signing of the treaties are to be officially celebrated in November. The introduction of a new jointly-developed Franco-British anti-ship missile will be among the planned presentations.


See also our video column Resistance to Berlin.


[1] Steffen Stierle: Deutsch-französische Schachtelsätze. euractiv.de 20.06.2018. See also Der Lohn des Chauvinismus.

[2] OECD Economic Outlook, June 2020: The world economy on a tightrope. oecd.org.

[3] Leo Klimm: Am Abgrund. Süddeutsche Zeitung 12.06.2020.

[4] See also New Confrontations and New Confrontations (II).

[5] Marc Vignaud: Comment l'Allemagne a mieux protégé ses entreprises que la France. lepoint.fr 25.06.2020.

[6] Sébastien Laye: Economie : "l'Allemagne risque de reléguer la France en deuxième division". capital.fr 07.06.2020.

[7] Michaela Wiegel: Macron sucht Halt bei de Gaulle. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 18.05.2020.

[8], [9] Michaela Wiegel: Frankreichs Deutschland-Komplex. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 12.06.2020.

[10] UK and France open 'new chapter' on defence cooperation. www.number10.gov.uk 02.11.2010.

[11] See also The New Entente Cordiale.