"It's Complicated" — How The Franco-German Power Couple Preps For A Europe Of 35
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna and her German counterpart, Annalena Baerbock have issued a strong and united call on Beijing to pressure Russia to end its war in Ukraine. It is a reminder of the potential of European power. But the "European Project" is as loaded as ever.
PARIS — The political relationship between France and Germany has had its ups and downs. Just a few months ago, the tide was low and there was tension between the two countries. But now, the Franco-German relationship is very much back on track, marked by Wednesday's appearance by the head of German diplomacy, Annalena Baerbock, as an invited guest at the table of the French Council of Ministers at the Élysée Palace in Paris — as if she were a French cabinet minister.
It's a strong sign of the intimacy that binds the two countries. Though it is little known, there are French diplomats at the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Germans at the Quai d'Orsay foreign ministry, integrated into the teams like nationals, who have access to the same information as their colleagues.
Baerbock referred to France as Germany's "best friend" and displayed her strong relationship with her counterpart Catherine Colonna.
At the moment, there is also a clear interest from Paris and Berlin to consult and come to an agreement in a Europe shaken by the war in Ukraine and other new dynamics around the world. The two main European economies want to drive the agenda rather than being subject to it.
There are immediate issues such as relations with Beijing, European industrial policy, and support for Ukraine.
But there are also longer-term issues, starting with the expansion of the European Union, which is inevitable or desirable depending on where you stand, to include the Western Balkans as well as Ukraine and Moldova. It's obvious that a Europe of 35 cannot function in the same way as when there were 15 or 27 member states.
Qualified majority voting
Nine countries, including France and Germany, recently launched a group calling for a move to qualified majority voting for European foreign policy decisions. Currently, the rule of unanimity prevails in this area, allowing isolated countries such as Hungary to block decisions or engage in political blackmail.
It may all seem very technical. But relinquishing one's veto right in such a central area of sovereignty is not so simple. Moreover, while Germany is willing to move to qualified majority voting on all issues, France is more reserved on the topic and wishes to confine it initially to a few areas.
EU expansion could come faster than we think.
Expansion may not be happening anytime soon, but it could come faster than we think. The war in Ukraine has changed things. Last year, the EU decided, after initial reluctance from Paris and Berlin, to grant Ukraine candidate country status: the union’s unity with the Eastern and Baltic countries was at stake.
By the end of the year, a decision will have to be made on whether to open negotiations with Kyiv, with repercussions for other candidates who have been waiting for years that would not take kindly to being left out. This could lead to an acceleration of the timetable, which would create significant operational challenges.
Therefore, France and Germany, whose weight remains decisive, have every interest in reaching an agreement before being faced with a dilemma, as they were last year with Ukraine. This is a typical old-school European concern about power, which justifies the rising tensions, beyond polarized opinions, on many subjects.
But if there is one thing that decades of Franco-German relations have taught us is that tensions can be handled.
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