Ukraine Is The Ultimate Test Of The Franco-German Alliance
If symbols were sufficient to govern international relations, France and Germany would be in total and absolute agreement today. But much more than that is needed, especially with a full-fledged war burning just to the east.
PARIS — The Élysée treaty, which sealed post-war reconciliation between France and Germany, celebrated its 60th anniversary on Jan. 22, symbolizing six decades of friendship between the two old enemies.
Symbols are not enough, but they are important. Generations after post-war German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and French President Charles de Gaulle signed the treaty, the gesture — made while the legacy of the war was still fresh — remains meaningful.
To say that the construction of Europe has brought lasting peace to the continent had become a time-worn cliché. But the war unleashed by Russia has given new meaning to this old story.
Still, despite the genuine emotion felt in the great amphitheater of the Sorbonne last week, in the presence of parliamentarians and young people from both countries, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz were certainly aware that the urgency of the moment requires more than symbols.
They are, therefore, both up against the wall.
Leopards and Leclercs
The Russian invasion, which neither of them predicted, has shaken up their vision of the world and forced some heartbreaking, harrowing revisions. This is especially true for Germany, which also recently underwent a change in government.
Chancellor Scholz's reluctance to deliver Leopard tanks to Ukraine had made him the subject of severe criticism for days — including a recent full-scale attack by Poland. At the Sorbonne, Scholz promised to provide Ukraine with "all the help it will need," suggesting that this damaging impasse will be broken. (Two days later, Germany finally agreed authorized the delivery of the tanks)As for Macron, he has "not ruled out" delivering French-made Leclerc tanks.
The war in Ukraine is the ultimate test for the political leaders of the day, and for the respective impact of their countries in the post-war era. This is part of what is at stake for both Germany and France.
The first test will undoubtedly be the European response to the Biden administration's subsidy plan in the United States, which is perceived in Europe as a threat to the continent's industries. France and Germany differed on the modalities of the European response. The 27 countries will meet at the beginning of February to decide.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives at the ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the Elysee Treaty at the Franco-German Council of Ministers.
Limits of the French-German "couple"
We are in fact in the same configuration as in 2020, during the debate on the post-COVID-19 recovery plan: when France and Germany agreed on a common loan for the 27 EU countries, it was possible to reach a consensus. This wasn't the case beforehand. Once again, a Paris-Berlin agreement is absolutely necessary for an effective response to American protectionism. The outcome of the Paris summit will therefore soon be determined.
We must forget the romantic image of the "couple." Long the essential order for a Franco-German relationship, this idea infantilizes a relationship that must be political and realistic.
This relationship is nevertheless based on a painful and complex history, which should not be ignored. The use of symbols, then, is not superfluous. It's a necessary — though on its own, insufficient – reminder to continue to move forward.