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On June 2, 2016, the Paris office of The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) organized a conference entitled “The Franco-German Cooperation in the midst of European Crises,” in partnership with the Paris office of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).
The first panel focused on the Franco-German couple relationship in the EU and eurozone. The discussants were Hans Kundnani, GMF’s senior transatlantic fellow; and Arthur Sode, an economist at the French treasury. This panel was moderated by Hans Stark, secretary general of the Study Committee for Franco-German Relations (Cerfa) at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI). The second panel focused on Franco-German foreign and security policy priorities with a discussion between Almut Möller, senior policy fellow and head of ECFR Berlin office; and Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer, senior transatlantic fellow and GMF’s Paris office director. The moderator of the second panel was ECFR’s Senior Policy Fellow and Paris Office Head Manuel Lafont Rapnouil.
During the first panel, the discussants outlined the changing role of Germany in Europe and the impact it has had on Franco-German relations. Germany became a leading political and economic power in the EU, particularly in the economic field. The creation of a European single currency has amplified German power, which has become even stronger since the economic crisis. This is a structural phenomenon that goes back to German reunification: Germany is strong because it made structural reforms that France failed to make. However, the discussants highlighted that Germany does not have the potential to be a European hegemon. The crisis has not created a “German Europe” but a chaotic Europe. And this situation is getting worse because the absence of leadership triggers an absence of consensus on the solutions to implement. Combined with low levels of trust between the member states, (caused by various factors such as the refugee crisis, reform fatigue, and growing populism,) the absence of consensus about the origins of the 2008 crisis, and the absence of leadership mean member states are prevented from reaching a compromise to get out of this economic stagnation. The discussants concluded the debate stating that the only way to solve the crisis is to improve the European institutions, even though differences in opinion between France and Germany will remain a challenge.
The second discussion focused on foreign and security issues. The discussants first raised the question of the “ring of instability,” which has appeared in the EU with the different crises (economic crisis, refugee crisis, Eastern and Southern security threats, Brexit, and the departure of European foreign fighters to Syria). They agreed that the Franco-German cooperation is strong on all these issues, despite Germany only making a few steps in the security and defense fields after the November terrorist attacks. In fact, Germany was the first European country to respond to the Article 42.7 and it developed its diplomacy and defense policy in a significant way. However, Germany remains curbed by the reluctance of its public who are not in favor of a more expansive policy. The speakers also highlighted the fact that decisions are taken unilaterally for urgent matters because of the difficulty to implement a European response, while all the security threats are global and require a collective response. Apart from the Ukrainian case, France is focused on the South and counterterrorism while Germany tries to solve the refugee crisis. The discussants nuanced their remarks by adding that EU member states have common security priorities, especially within NATO, and concluded with concrete recommendations: moving beyond the purely institutional debate, submitting to the EU Council a common proposal to set up a security issues’ session on the agenda, promoting the idea of a French-German document on the future of European defense, and working more closely with Washington.