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Thursday, 31 May 2012

No Merkollande: Franco-German relations at stake


It was clear – even before François Hollande was elected – that Franco-German relations would not be the same with Hollande as French president, as it was the case with Sarkozy. Merkel was aware of that fact. Now, however, the new “non-alliance” is on the way of being fully exposed.

It is not only a matter of Germany austerity strategy vs. French non-austerity, the dimensions reach into European foreign policy as such, taking Syria as most recent example. While Germany rejects any idea or even discussion of a possible military intervention of the western community against the Assad regime, President Hollande recently stressed the possibility of a military mission to Syria in a TV interview.

This is a critical move for various reasons: first of all, it displays one more time the lack of a single voice or strategy in European foreign and security policy; which basically exists on paper only through the Treaty of the European Union.

Secondly, the cleavage between France and Germany on the Syrian question is just one of many recent symptoms about the recent question about main strategy in the Euro debt crisis. It is especially a major blow for Germany, since Merkel has to understand that Germany cannot longer imply European policy with inflexible policy strategies – such as the current austerity strategy.

Thirdly, Germany’s foreign policy has been constantly marked by reluctance for responsibility and leadership. Although various international voices call for Germany to take more responsibility and even leadership function in conflict resolution, mediation, and development strategy implementation, Berlin has always rejected any possible chance to take global responsibility. This has to be found in its self-imposed inferiority complex. Any Germany government, no matter if conservative or social-democratic, was very loyal to this foreign policy strategy, and no German administration has felt committed to change it, no matter how useful it would be.

This “tradition” has consistently affected EU policy as well, in a twofold way: on one hand Germany proved to be a main actor in European integration in all its forms, especially in the Monetary Union.
On the other hand, however, Germany proved itself to be inflexible to adapt to new political situations on the European and international arena. The list of examples is long: inflexibility to alternatives to austerity, reluctance for leadership responsibility and military interventions when needed (i.e. Libya), which undermines the chance of implementing a common European position.

As the daily German newspaper “Süddeutsche Zeitung” correctly says, Germany has a tendency to close its eyes first in the view of a potential escalation of a regional conflict into an international one. My contrast, France’s strategy is more straightforward and outgoing towards military intervention in conflict resolution – which was already the case with Hollande’s predecessor Sarkozy in the realm of the Libyan crisis.

This will be a serious test in the Franco-German relations, which have already been troubled by opposite crisis reaction strategies. It is no longer an easy game for Merkel; she will have to deal with a more confident France stepping out of Germany’s shadow in EU leadership.

The outcome of both, the Syrian crisis and the Euro debt crisis, will affect the bilateral relations between two traditional partners, and Germany has to realize that it cannot walk alone.

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