Bad Signals

Serious differences between Berlin and Paris overshadow Franco-German cabinet meeting in Hamburg. Issues of contention: Armament, energy market, foreign policy. Berlin slashes Goethe Institutes’ funding in France.

BERLIN/PARIS (Own report) – Serious differences overshadow first joint cabinet meeting between the German and French governments beginning today (Monday). Officially, the two-day meeting, attended by the heads of governments and ministers, will focus on the transformation of industry and the strengthening of the EU’s technological sovereignty. De facto, it will be aimed at exploring ways to improve relations between Berlin and Paris, which are currently desolate and continue to deteriorate. Several Franco-German arms projects have been regularly making headlines: Projects, said to be of strategic importance for the EU’s “strategic autonomy,” but which have barely gotten off the ground or have even failed. New issues of contention are constantly being added, most recently fierce disputes over the EU’s reform of the energy market, but also on serious foreign policy differences, for example on the question of which position to take in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Already in September, Germany’s Economics Minister Robert Habeck concluded that Berlin and Paris actually “do not agree on anything.”

Ambitious Projects

The Franco-German disputes over major joint defense projects have been making headlines for years. In 2017, Berlin and Paris had agreed on six projects to be implemented by companies from both sides, partially with the involvement of companies from third countries: The development and construction of the Future Combat Air System, (FCAS) centered on the 6th generation fighter jet, the Main Ground Combat System (MGCS) built around a new battle tank, a new maritime patrol aircraft, as well as the development of a new drone (“Eurodrone”), a new artillery system and the modernization of the Tiger combat helicopter.[1] The development of the maritime patrol aircraft has definitely been dropped since Berlin announced, in June 2021, the procurement of US P-8A Poseidon models, which are produced by Boeing at a cost of around €1.1 billion.[2] In May this year, the German defense ministry has also announced that Berlin would not participate in modernizing the Tiger combat helicopter, but rather phase it out.[3] According to a report last week, “nothing has been heard, already for years” about the artillery system.[4]

On the Brink of Cancellation

Officially, the other three arms projects are still in progress, but are considered to be in serious trouble. The MGCS was on the brink of cancellation,[5] and could only be saved after personal interventions by the defense ministers of both countries, Boris Pistorius and Sébastien Lecornu.[6]. Experts have serious doubts that the project will be completed. Skepticism has long predominated in regards to  FACS, even though the development of the air combat system has been taken a step further.[7] According to a report, Airbus and the German government continue to maintain contact with London for a possible alternative: With the “Tempest,” Great Britain is also developing a sixth-generation fighter jet, and is making faster headway.[8] The Eurodrone on the other hand is “already today” being considered to “have fallen out of time”: The large, “comparatively slow-flying drone” is “an easy target for a modern air defense system,”[9] An expert on France at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) is quoted saying that “Berlin and Paris are dragging their feet without enthusiasm, but are still shying away from ending cooperation.”

Dispute over the Energy Market Reform

Serious differences have emerged between Berlin and Paris in numerous fields – in their China policies, the free trade agreement with Mercosur or in questions of fiscal regulations.[10] Meanwhile an escalating dispute over the reform of the EU’s energy market has been added to the list. Using a complicated mechanism, Paris seeks to use this debate to drastically lower its nuclear energy prices, thereby enabling an energy price for France’s industry that observers believe “no one can seriously compete with in the EU.”[11] Berlin, sees its industry – which is already suffering under particularly high energy prices – being at a structural disadvantage and is opposing. The dispute is escalating. Within the French government there is already talk of “Red Lines.”

Dispute over Caucasus Policy

New Franco-German differences are also appearing in foreign policy – over the question of the South Caucasus. Last Tuesday, France’s Foreign Minister, Catherine Colonna visited Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, and promised comprehensive support. She declared that she was committed to ensuring that the aid package the EU is already preparing for Armenia, “will be meaningful, robust and proportionate to the scale of the crisis.”[12] She also confirmed that France will deliver weapons to Armenia.[13] Until now, Yerevan has been buying its military equipment in Russia. Berlin is clearly more reluctant. Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock had explicitly refused to accompany Colonna on her trip to Yerevan, because the German government seeks to import a large volume of natural gas from Azerbaijan to compensate for the lack of Russian gas. ( reported.[14]) This could be jeopardized should Berlin too openly stand in opposition to Baku. Last week, in reference to developments in Nagorno-Karabakh, Yaël Braun-Pivet, President of France’s National Assembly, declared “We cannot just simply let it happen.”[15] She explicitly called for sanctions against Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and his family. Berlin, on the other hand, takes a stand against that.

Shut Down

Meanwhile the German government’s drastic cuts in funding for several of its Goethe Institutes in France – without even consulting the cities and institutions affected – is provoking considerable irritation in the country. The finances that the Goethe Institutes in Lyon and Toulouse will have at their disposal have been massively slashed. Only €5,000 will still be available for cultural activities in Toulouse, the city, where the Franco-German Airbus plant is located. At the end of the year, the Goethe Institutes in Bordeau, Lille, and Strasbourg will be shut down completely. The regional journal in Lille, La Voix du Nord commented that this is “a very bad sign emanating from Germany.”[16] Frank Leroy, President of the Regional Council of the Grand Est region, which includes Strasbourg, was quoted to have said, “I deeply regret the closure and call for mobilization on both banks of the Rhine.” Just last January, Germany and France held the 60th Anniversary celebration of the Élysée Treaty at the Sorbonne.[17] In reference to the Franco-German friendship, Chancellor Olaf Scholz declared at the time that “this friendship, means a great deal to us Germans.”[18]

“Do not Agree on Anything”

German Minister of the Economy, Robert Habeck recently spoke unambiguously about the current state of Franco-German relations. Speaking in early September at the Ambassadors’ Conference in Berlin, in reference to the Aachen Treaty of January 22, 2019, which also stipulates that Franco-German security interests are “inseparably interlinked,” Habeck stated, the “Franco-German friendship is in fact a polarity, that must be interpreted in such a way that we actually do not agree on anything.”[19]


[1] Marco Seliger: Merkel und Macron wollten sechs milliardenschwere Rüstungsprojekte vorantreiben. Geblieben ist ein einziges echtes Gemeinschaftsprojekt. 05.10.2023.

[2] Deutschland bestellt fünf Seefernaufklärer P-8A Poseidon. 30.06.2021.

[3] Thomas Wiegold: Jetzt offiziell: (Langes) Ende für den Kampfhubschrauber Tiger, Nachfolgeentscheidung dieses Jahr. 13.05.2023.

[4] Marco Seliger: Merkel und Macron wollten sechs milliardenschwere Rüstungsprojekte vorantreiben. Geblieben ist ein einziges echtes Gemeinschaftsprojekt. 05.10.2023.

[5] See also Panzer für Europa (II).

[6] See also Deutsch-französische Konflikte.

[7] Gemeinsames Panzerprojekt nimmt wichtige Hürde. 21.09.2023.

[8] See also Streit um das Luftkampfsystem.

[9] Marco Seliger: Merkel und Macron wollten sechs milliardenschwere Rüstungsprojekte vorantreiben. Geblieben ist ein einziges echtes Gemeinschaftsprojekt. 05.10.2023.

[10] Niklas Záboji: Ziemlich uneinige Partner. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 07.10.2023.

[11] Hendrik Kafsack, Niklas Záboji: Industriestrom im XXL-Format. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 15.09.2023.

[12] Michaela Wiegel: Einsame Retterin in Eriwan. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 04.10.2023.

[13] La France a « donné son accord » à l’Arménie en vue de livraison de matériel militaire. 03.10.2023.

[14] See also „Ein vertrauenswürdiger Partner”.

[15] Michaela Wiegel: Einsame Retterin in Eriwan. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 04.10.2023.

[16], [17] Michaela Wiegel: Wie viel ist die Freundschaft noch wert? Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 05.10.2023.

[18] Rede von Bundeskanzler Olaf Scholz bei der gemeinsamen Sitzung von Assemblée Nationale und Deutschem Bundestag anlässlich des Abschlusses des Elysée-Vertrags am 22. Januar 2023 in Paris.

[19] Michaela Wiegel: Gemeinsam abschrecken. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 12.09.2023.