French-German Pact: How COVID-19 Gave Europe A Second Chance

Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) comes to a press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) comes to a press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Lucie Robequain

PARIS — The surprise announcement of a massive pact between France and Germany to lead Europe's response to the COVID-19 crisis marks a historic agreement, writes of Paris-based daily Les Echos. Germany's decision to accept the principle of a common debt for European countries, signals the birth of a new union of solidarity, which is essential to claim the title of superpower. Here is Robequain's piece, translated by Worldcrunch:

It's often said that the construction of Europe is never without great difficulty. We point out its divisions. We mock its weakness, its lack of leadership, which is all the more reason to point out those moments when it develops a backbone. By accepting the principle of a mutual debt within the European Union, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel have taken a decisive step in building a united Europe.

This new robust vision has never before been proposed: A union based on solidarity, capable of transcending the particular interests of each individual member. A union capable of holding its own against the two superpowers, China and the United States. In short, it proposes a political project that has been materializing in response to the global crisis caused by coronavirus.

The immense weight of the Franco-German partnership leaves little doubt as to its ability to bring about such change. The financial transfers between rich and poor, northern and southern Europe, were already essential to the smooth running of the EU. Now, they will need an additional 500 billion euros, an amount that was unimaginable even just a few weeks ago.

It is worth noting the major influence German constitutional judges have played, probably in spite of themselves. By challenging the disproportionate role of the European Central Bank, they have forced Angela Merkel to affirm a principle that has never been fully accepted, according to which the euro must walk on two legs — monetary and budgetary — for it to avoid collapse. The fact that Germany will take over the presidency of the European Council on July 1 is also significant. Typically accused of selfishness, the country wants to take on this new responsibility by renewing its commitment to the European project.

After two months of hesitation, this agreement marks the first decisive, and even spectacular, step by the European Union in the face of the crisis. The three previous stages — appealing to the European Investment Bank, the European Stability Mechanism and short-term unemployment benefits — were largely inspired by those implemented in 2009 to counter the financial crisis. This victory marks a culmination of French efforts. It played a central role in initiating the idea of the "coronabonds," rallying northern countries (like Ireland, Luxembourg, Belgium) and ultimately convincing the German Chancellor. The French, who in the current crisis, have shown unparalleled severity towards their own president, should at least give credit where credit is due..

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

For if nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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