On February 26th, 2015, the Paris Office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) organized a private roundtable with Pierre Levy, director for the European Union at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Dr. Daniela Schwarzer, senior director for research and director of the Europe Program at GMF, to discuss the economic, political and security challenges to French-German contemporary cooperation, as well as on the role played by their relations on trans-European and trans-Atlantic cooperation. The discussion was introduced by Ivan Vejvoda, vice-president for programs of the GMF and moderated by Dr. Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer, senior transatlantic fellow and director of the Paris office of GMF. This roundtable was organized as part of the Legacy of ’89 program of the GMF, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall and the German reunification.
Pierre Levy first highlighted the obvious strategic unbalance between France and Germany today. While Germany’s economic weight and political influence at the European level continues to grow, the French economy has stagnated since the financial crisis and reforms have experienced continuous political blockages. On the other hand, France’s assertive foreign and security policies, including significant military operations in Libya, Mali and the Central African Republic have created a strategic gap with Berlin, and Germany has been criticized for not embracing the same defense and security responsibilities despite its economic strength. Pierre Levy also noted that this unbalance, although enhanced in the recent years, has characterized the French-German relations since the reunification, and the convergence of interests between Berlin and Paris has always demanded strategic dialogues and political compromises. According to Mr. Levy, the crises that define the current economic and security environment have exacerbated the difference of political culture between the two countries. The rise of populist movements in Europe, the future of Greece in the Euro Zone and the European Union, but also the continuous violence in the Middle East and the conflict in Ukraine have deeply changed the challenges that are faced by France and Germany at the international level. While their cooperation was a leading force in the transatlantic community in times of prosperity, the return of geopolitics and the lasting implications of the economic crisis question the extent to which Paris and Berlin can coordinate their policies.
Daniela Schwarzer argued that French-German relations are characterized by a climate of worries and defiance in both countries. For Germany, the economic difficulties experienced by France are the sources of great concern, as the economic development of the European Union also depends on the prosperity of the French economy. Berlin is therefore particularly attentive to the series of reforms that has been engaged by the French government, and their concrete consequences for the French economic growth. However, the prudence that characterizes their relations today did not prevent France and Germany from working together on a variety of significant issues, such as the energy transition of both countries, European tax policies, and digital economy and rights. Dr. Schwarzer also pointed out that France and Germany may have missed a precious opportunity to reform the governance of the Euro Zone in the recent years. While Jean-Claude Juncker heads the “last chance Commission”, one may argue that Paris and Berlin did not make enough efforts to design a coordinated vision of the European project, and Daniela Schwarzer warned the audience that the 2012 to 2017 period could constitute a unique opportunity to engage in deep reforms.