Any new power, whether in Germany or France, wonders why it should stay in a tête-à-tête, in the privileged dialogue of the unique couple formed by the two countries on the European stage. Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schröder and Nicolas Sarkozy all at one time or another feigned a look towards London. François Hollande, still in electoral mode, hopes to change the German positions with the help of other Member States, or even the common institutions. All in vain. Every time it is within the Franco-German couple that European decisions are decided. Why should that be?
Mechanically speaking there cannot be a majority at the European Council if France and Germany are not on the same side. They carry along with them partners with the same vision, the same interests even.
The two most populated countries in the Union represent almost half the European continental economy and 47% of the 394 billion euros in the emergency fund offered as a guarantee for Greece, Ireland and Portugal (27% for Germany, 20% for France). Nothing is possible if the two countries do not agree, particularly in terms of reacting to emergencies. Their influences and their abilities to act are, moreover, very often complementary in a large number of areas.
But does that mean that France and Germany form a kind of management board in Europe?
No, because their positions are rarely identical and it is only after intense discussions that a compromise can be found, generally one that is close to what is acceptable for all members of the Union. To this end it was decided, in 2001 in the small Alsatian town of Blaesheim, that the two countries would meet systematically before any European Council meeting, i.e. every 6 to 8 weeks. We must get back to this rule.
Because it would serve no purpose, for France, to isolate Germany as it embodies "austerity", having it bear the responsibility of the refusal of the far too traditional policy of recovery through spending. It is not the only country in Europe to believe that there can be no European borrowing, in addition to national loans (Eurobonds) without a shared, or at least coordinated budgetary and fiscal policy. The informal European Council held on 23rd May demonstrated as much. Similarly, it would serve no purpose to ignore the hope held by France, for a European policy that is closer to the expectations of the citizens of States in difficulty. Nothing can be achieved without them, except the encouragement of right- and left-wing populists.
At the preparatory debates prior to the European Council to be held on 28th and 29th June, dangerous oppositions are again resurging. In France there is a false feeling of having conceded strict budgetary rules to Germany, whereas for the past 10 years we have been giving in to our ease. In Germany, since the experience has been successful, it is believed that rigour is the sole remedy for all ills.
The current Franco-German tensions demonstrate how far the two partners have diverged over these past few years and how much better they would do, governments, parliament and civil society, to discuss more widely their economic, budgetary, energy, environmental, diplomatic and defence differences, rather than remain camped on their own positions.
For far too long the two States have taken for granted their privileged entente, which is necessary to build Europe. Clearly there is an emotional aspect to the Franco-German relationship. How could it be otherwise between two States which fought so hard before choosing reason and cooperation? But it is no longer sufficient just to put fuel into the engine to drive Europe, which has, to a great extent, become incapable of making decisions. It is therefore the national interests which must be brought together. A new treaty in 2013, 50 years after the Elysée treaty, should, this time, go further and go into the details of a shared vision of the future of Europe. This will require much more work than mere political posturing.
There is no alternative for Europe's future, neither to the east, nor to the south. The Franco-German entente must always come first because it is, and will remain, essential.