24
May
2024
media Ifri in the Media
Jeanette SÜẞ, quoted by Nick Alipour and Théo Bourgery-Gonse in Euractiv 

Franco-German relation faces familiar challenge ahead of Macron’s Germany trip

Franco-German symbolism, rather than bickering over policy, will briefly take centre stage when French President Emmanuel Macron meets German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin on Sunday (26 May) during a three-day state visit, the first in 24 years. 

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Just like in 2000, both countries are again facing fundamental questions about the future of Europe, which will loom large during the primarily ceremonial visit.

“The same question is being asked today, though in different ways, over the end goal of Europe,” Jeanette Süβ, a Franco-German relations expert at the Institut français des relations internationals (IFRI), a geopolitical think tank, told Euractiv. 

  • Former French president Jacques Chirac’s visit in 2000 came just months before EU leaders signed the momentous Nice Treaty, which ushered in the EU’s unsuccessful attempt to pass a constitution, Süß noted.

At the time, the bloc was also preparing for an Eastern enlargement, which fundamentally altered the EU as 10 new countries joined on 1 May 2004.

Chirac’s words in Berlin ring familiar against today’s twin debate about EU reform and the accession of Ukraine, Moldova, and the Western Balkans.

“Enlargement must not weaken us. It is a strong, democratic Europe, capable of taking action that candidate countries want to join. That is why institutional reform is an essential step,” Chirac said at the time.

Although today’s Franco-German tensions are often blamed on Macron and Olaf Scholz’s particularly dysfunctional tandem, the noise surrounding Chirac’s visit shows that similar troubles plagued leaders back then, too.

The German magazine Spiegel captioned its coverage with the headline: “The Franco-German engine needs to run more smoothly”, highlighting disagreement on integrating the EU’s foreign and security policy.

 

Same, same, but different

The EU of 2024 is radically different, following a financial crisis, a global pandemic, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that brought war back to the continent. Policy issues on the table, such as the need to strengthen Europe’s defence and boost its long-term competitiveness, are also more dramatic.

However, as the bloc has reached the end of the institutional arch that its leaders were designing in the early 2000s, its two largest members now face questions similar to those they did then about the EU’s next chapter, enlargement, and further integration.

Thus, Macron will use his visit to “explain and clarify” the substance of his second Sorbonne speech on the future of Europe, which included a controversial push for new common debt, and will look for common ground with Scholz, the Elysée told journalists.

The symbolic images of a state visit will allow Macron to elicit sympathy from the German population for the challenging processes ahead, estimated Claire Demesmay, a political scientist at the Centre Marc Bloch. 

 

Urgency and uncharted territory

The prospects might be worse than at the turn of the millennium when there was greater “momentum” to think long-term, which seems to have faded in 2024, Ifri’s Süß noted.

But the necessity to do so has become more urgent: Both governments must leave their mark before a series of elections that could fundamentally change Europe and their relationship.

European elections are two weeks away, with the far-right expected to gain considerable influence in the Parliament.

Thornier European questions also have to be settled before campaigning for the 2025 German elections crowds out EU topics in the country, Demesmay said. 

“But the very important question on the French side, which many have in the back of their heads, is what happens if the [far-right Rassemblement National] comes into power [in 2027]?” she added. 

“That would change Franco-German relations profoundly, and nobody knows what that would mean.”

 

> Read the article on the Euractiv Website.

 

Keywords
Emmanuel Macron European elections 2024 European Union enlargement Franco-German relations Frank-Walter Steinmeier European Union France Germany