The ceremonies for the 60th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty made it possible to lyrically reaffirm the friendship between France and Germany. While the Franco-German Council of Ministers had been postponed to be able to better prepare for it, the results were perceived as disappointing in the absence of major announcements.
Éric Pestel is secretary general of the European Renaissance Association in Paris. Jeanette Süß is responsible for European affairs in the office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom in Brussels.
It seems that after a period of misunderstanding, deciding to intensify joint reflections within working groups is already a victory in itself. After the accumulation of positions taken without consultation, France wanted to remind Germany of the importance of the Franco-German couple and that the decisions of one of the Member States were not without consequences for its partners and for the European whole.
This recorded, contacts were resumed. Multiple councils and working groups aim to harmonize positions, avoid differences or make concrete proposals. Time and results will tell if these commitments will be sufficient.
Since the reengagement obtained from Germany by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 2019, France has given the impression of wanting to rebalance its partnership by signing two other treaties with Italy and Spain, the Treaty of Quirinal, signed on November 26, 2021, entered into force on February 1, 2023, and the Treaty of Barcelona, signed on January 19, 2023, i.e. 3 days before the Franco-German ceremony.
At first glance, it seems paradoxical that the French President who is most in favor of community construction of the European Union is also the one who has committed France to the most bilateral agreements within the Union. When we know that Charles de Gaulle’s desire to shift Robert Schuman’s project from community construction to intergovernmental cooperation through the Elysée Treaty was only avoided by the intervention of parliament German, one can wonder about the French European strategy.
France’s Desire to Strengthen Its Traditional Allies
Undoubtedly, we can see in this France’s desire to strengthen its traditional allies in southern Europe, for example during the negotiation of the recovery plan following the Covid crisis, but it is also a question of making Germany that the Franco-German tandem may not be the only exclusive model within Europe.
Admittedly, these three treaties are not of the same order, but they have similarities. First of all, France does not seem to have a vocation to sign agreements of this type with other European countries since this policy would be reserved for neighboring countries.
The three treaties nevertheless go beyond these cross-border issues with chapters on issues of defence, education, sustainable development, economic cooperation and consultation on European matters. The treaties establish a roadmap with concrete projects that go beyond the current political constellations by registering de facto cooperation in the medium and long term.
Nevertheless, their achievement still depends on a certain political will on the part of European leaders, as evidenced by the Franco-German slump in recent months and the doubt that has arisen over the Quirinal Treaty with the new President of the Italian Council, Georgia Meloni. Faced with this formation of new blocs around France, Germany is also seeking to strengthen its bilateral ties with Spain – with which an action plan was signed in October 2022 – and intends to sign one with Italy in 2023 despite the coming to power of Georgia Meloni.
These action plans correspond to a more pragmatic and flexible approach since they do not require parliamentary ratification. They are therefore also less symbolic.
This consolidation of blocs around France on one side and Germany on the other could be perilous if it generates some competition between the different bilateral couples. In this case, promoting the learning of German, Spanish and Italian at the same time in France is a matter of possible conflict.
Fortunately, the three treaties specify that bilateral rapprochements must lead to better consultation in European politics by relying on countries that know each other, cooperate better and trust each other. But it is clear that it is fully a matter of declaring States in an intergovernmental process that is not very inclusive of national parliaments or civil society.
The intergovernmental path was also pursued by Emmanuel Macron’s flagship announcement in 2022, with the European Political Community (EPC). At the same time, it makes it possible to open up the stakes and to associate France and Germany with the maneuver by playing on their two networks and their two leaderships. It was therefore wise to include it in the joint declaration of the Franco-German Council of Ministers and to put this initiative and the Berlin Process launched in 2014 into perspective.
We can understand the French strategy, which seems to be borrowed by Germany, of aligning the positions of major players with European issues. Nevertheless, it is regrettable that the European Commission and the European Council in connection with the Parliament, a true supranational entity, cannot be the true conductors of a European construction.
To do this, the European Union should find more flexible means to accomplish its enlargement and use the tools at its disposal with the bridging clauses and enhanced cooperation to carry out its deepening.
This article is originally published on euractiv.fr