Germany and France Need to Lead in Europe

I’ve just read an interesting study published by the European Council on Foreign Relations that addresses the role of Germany and France in the leadership of the EU (European Council on Foreign Relations; Jana Puglierin and Ulrike Esther Franke, The Big Engine That Might: How France and Germany Can Build, a Geopolitical Future, July, 2020, www.ecfr.eu/publications). I think the study offers some really enlightening insights into how these two countries can collaborate to bring about significant change to the EU approach to internal and external affairs. This collaboration may prove useful as Germany takes over the leadership of the Council of the EU.

The study begins with a discussion of the roles that Germany and France play in the EU. Germany is seen as the most influential country in the EU. EU members see Germany, for the most part, as an honest power broker that can bring competing interests together to work toward the accomplishment of common EU goals. Germany is viewed as a consensus builder and not as a hegemon who dictates policy. Germany tends to take a very pragmatic approach to the EU and is very protective of the status quo that has allowed it to emerge as the most influential country on the Continent. What’s good for Germany is good for the EU and what’s good for the EU is good for Germany .

France, especially under the leadership of President Emmanuel Macron, is viewed as being more Eurocentric. France’s approach is seen as more visionary than pragmatic and seeks to develop a strategic vision for the EU that serves to enhance the EU’s position as a major player and power center in the international community. France’s approach is seen as more outward looking than that of Germany, especially in the area of common defense and the articulation of a common EU foreign policy, especially one that addresses relations with the United States, Russia and China.

These two approaches serve as excellent counterbalances as the EU strives to move forward as a major player in the international arena and strives to develop a common EU approach to a number of foreign policy issues. These issues would include relations with China, the United States, and Russia, common defense, coronavirus response, climate change, trade policy, and migration issues. Germany’s pragmatism and ability to build consensus among EU members and France’s more outward looking approach can serve to bring diverse opinions within the EU together and foster the formation of common policies that protect the status quo that Germany treasures, while pushing forward common policies that lead to the EU having more control over it own destiny. This will be critical as the US/China relationship continues to deteriorate and the fallout of that deterioration reshapes the dynamics of international politics, especially as China exerts more influence in Europe.

The leadership of Germany and France will also be critical in managing relations with Russia. The countries of eastern Europe feel especially vulnerable to Russian military adventurism and need reassurances that the policy goals of western EU members, especially in terms of energy policy, don’t lead to concessions that place the security of these eastern European countries at risk. France’s desire to move toward a more common defense policy should help dampen the fears of countries like Poland and the Baltic States and will serve to balance Germany’s desire for a more pragmatic approach to Russia, especially with respect to the Nordstream 2 natural gas project.

As Germany takes over leadership of the Council of the EU, the opportunity for Germany and France to collaborate in moving the EU toward a more common approach to meeting its goals and objectives has never been better. As Pugliein and Franke write, “when France and Germany can cooperate, they can shift debate and catalyze agreement among other EU states.”

I would encourage you to read the study. It’s long, but well worth the time. I have provided the link to the study at the beginning of this article.

Should Germany use this current leadership opportunity to partner with France to bring about a more common EU approach in foreign policy? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

Thanks for taking the time to read this article. I appreciate it!

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