Emmanuel Macron (left), President of France, and Olaf Scholz, Chancellor of Germany Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images
The German Government France and France must go on a boat and drinks trip to “get to know each other” while trying to repair their damaged relationship.
Next Monday and Tuesday, in a team-building event, the entire French cabinet will travel to Hamburg, the stomping ground of Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor. It comes after an influential German MEP warned that poor relations between the two countries were slowing down key EU decisions, including agreements on defense in Ukraine and trade.
Ministers will take part in what the Germans called a Clausur or retreat into the network without negotiations, formal meetings or final statements. Instead, the ministers will simply go for a boat ride, chat, particularly about artificial intelligence, and “have a drink together” before visiting a fish market.
Both sides hope the meeting will breathe life into an increasingly rocky relationship. .
This comes against the backdrop of discontent in France. Germany has quietly abandoned the unwritten rule of their “paired” relationship that the Germans ask economic questions while France takes the lead in more “strategic” areas; especially defense, given the country's place on the UN Security Council and its status as a nuclear power. The shift has occurred since the start of the Ukraine conflict, with Berlin pledging €100bn (£86bn) in defense spending to meet NATO's target of 2 percent of GDP.
'Sense of Deutschland Uber Alles& #39; “There is a growing sense of Deutschland Uber Alles,” said one senior source familiar with high-level political connections. “The Germans think they can cope alone. This makes the situation very difficult.”
The French, with a huge fleet of nuclear power plants, complain that the Germans are unfairly blocking all European nuclear talks while pumping billions into carbon-emitting gas.
They complain that their neighbors are refusing to agree to any room for maneuver on EU deficit rules or to favor mutual investment, especially in the transition to a green economy. They also accuse the Germans, whose economy is in shambles, of becoming “paranoid” that France is “stealing market share” in a number of sectors.
The French feel that, unlike Angela Merkel, Chancellor Scholz cares little about their language and culture and has “liberal” leanings that make it difficult for them to find common ground.
Whereas the French presidential system leads to rapid, top-down decision-making, a hesitant Scholz was unable to break off endless negotiations between Germany's three-party coalition government, leading to a “total immobilization on all issues,” one source said.
Christian Lindner (right), German Finance Minister, and Bruno Le Maire, French Economy Minister, at talks in Berlin Photo: Maja Hitij/Getty Images
“At the moment we are seeing a noticeable lack of internal coordination between Paris and Berlin. And that’s not good,” David McAllister, chairman of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee and a key figure in the opposition Christian Democrats.
Franco-German relations have long been considered the driving force of the EU. , there was “nothing in Europe”, but without cooperation between the two countries “things don’t work”, he told the Guardian.
“At the end of the day, Paris and Berlin need to agree to smooth things out… and that’s where I criticize the German government. I don’t think we have seen such weak cooperation between Paris and Berlin as we see now,” he added.
One of the most “glaring examples,” Mr. McAllister said, was the scramble to decide on a next-generation European battle tank that would become an integral part of the mainstream combat system in Ukraine or any other future combat zone.
The controversy persist
Last month, Paris and Berlin vowed to make progress by the end of the year after a meeting between Sébastien Lecornu, France's armed forces minister, and Boris Pistorius, his German counterpart, but differences persist.
“That's what we do. I don’t see any progress on the next, future aircraft,” he said. There is also no progress on a trade agreement with the Latin American bloc Mercosur, he said.
Development of the Système de Combat Aérien du Futur (SCAF) – or future combat aviation system in England – is not possible. increasingly exacerbating the rift between Paris and Berlin. Germany and France, which along with Spain are developing the SCAF, are increasingly at odds over how to finance the project, where it should be built and to whom to sell the aircraft.
Another long-standing source. The tension stems from France's insistence on developing a domestic European defense industry. Germany's European Sky Shield initiative, a missile defense project in which the UK is a participant, will use US- and Israeli-made Patriot and Arrow missiles.
Germany's olive branch of beer, boats and fish was a welcome welcome. “Sign that they want to connect,” said one leading French source.