🕑 5 min
By Melle de Ridder
The engine behind EU integration is facing serious drawbacks as Franco-German relationships have been soured by mutual annoyance: Macron dreams about the good old Merkel era. In the meantime, Schulz walks down his own path in Brussels. Is the future of Europe in safe hands?
1. What Happened?
The conference was cancelled as several German ministers apparently valued a holiday with their children more than diplomatic ties with their most important EU partner. This caused a widespread shock in Paris as the connection between Macron and Schulz deteriorates even further. 26 October should have been a symbol of European strength and unity in the battle against Russia. The Germans must have looked passed this, however.
Since its establishment in 1963, the ministerial council meet-up has been seen as the symbol of European solidarity and togetherness. The fact that such an important meeting was cancelled illustrates that Schulz no longer views France as an equal anymore. This is even more characterized by the questionable German excuse; it seems that an autumn break is more important than the security and stability of the longest-standing peace project on the planet.
2. Schulz Is Spending Money Like It’s Worthless
Since the appointment of Schulz in 2021, the Franco-German relationship has been characterized by a Germany-first strategy. Though the Chancellor stated that “Europe is our future – and that future is in our hands”, his plans show otherwise. The French frustration precisely lies in this regard. Two recent events display this matter.
Firstly, the German government announced a massive inflation reduction bill worth 200 billion euros, taking up a whopping five per cent of the annual German GDP. By far the largest share goes to the realization of a price cap on gas and electricity. This once-in-a-generation support package had not been communicated with the French, to the annoyance of President Macron. He stated that German solidarity is far away to be seen and, instead, results in an unequal competition field for French businesses. To support Macron, the EU Commission has launched an investigation into Germany’s massive state aid package.
3. Russia Out? China In
France and Germany have more than once disagreed on matters concerning state aid, which does not create all too much surprise. Macron’s disappointment was therefore expected. The second disagreement, however, was completely against any norms, principles, and common sense: it threatens the security of the entire EU. Halfway through October, Schulz, the former mayor of Hamburg, gave a green signal for the selling of a 24,9 per cent share in the Hamburg harbour to the Chinese state-owned company Cosco. Immediately, the French President reacted with indignation. After the Piraeus catastrophe in 2016, Germany has clearly not learned its lesson. In that year, the EU forced Greece to privatise the harbour of Athens by selling a two-thirds share to Cosco. As a result, present-day, China dictates the Greek maritime economy and the same is about to happen to Germany.
Knowing this, Macron’s sincere frustration is better understood. It even led to a mini political crisis in Schulz’s own Cabinet when Vice Chancellor Habeck addressed his considerable concerns on the deal. This was ignored and Schulz followed his German-centrism and put the EU at risk. For the unforeseeable future, the EU will now be at risk. It was this sheer act of selfishness that made caused Franco-German relationships to drop to a new low. The French President has constantly been hammering the importance of European strategic autonomy. With the war in Ukraine, the dependency on hostile states has shown its consequences.
Schulz has clearly been caught twice in the same snare. His Germany is easily and naively swapping Russia for China, stating that it is a matter of simple economics. As characterised by Macron’s reaction, it is not. The French frustration can be understood as just and proportionate. Schulz should realise that the times of Germany-first have long passed. Marginalising their most important EU ally goes beyond rationality and poses a threat to the future of ‘his’ Europe.
The Franco-German conference was cancelled due to a sordid and diplomatically unworthy excuse. It unnecessarily put the vital relationship at risk and created a feeling of unappreciation in Paris. It might be that the French President still needs to get acquainted with the successor of Angela Merkel, which was characterised by a stable and straightforward policy. Macron sees Schulz as an einzelgänger, as someone who does not wish to boost the European spirit but follows an own path instead. This sharply contrasts with the Chancellor’s speech earlier in August. Germany’s future is not Europe; Europe’s future is Germany.
Sources: FP, German Federal Government, LeMonde, Politico, Reuters
Written by Melle de Ridder