Franco-German bromance reloaded?

3 min read

With less than one week before the EU elections, time is running out for those wishing to modify the projected outcome.

No wonder that President Macron had an official visit in Germany, the first French president to do so in 24 years. The three-day visit was meant to emphasize the strong ties between the two countries.

Based on all the friendly photos, depicting Macron and Bundespräsident Steinmeier in various relaxed moments, a naïve observer could deduct that everything is fine along the Berlin-Paris axis. That despite some past differences, the two leaders can work together to navigate the EU out of the treacherous waters it found itself lately and that “Franco-German relations are indispensable and important for Europe”, as Macron put it.

After a tour around the country, Macron headed to the Meseberg Palace (near Berlin) to a joint government meeting with Chancellor Scholz. There, again, they tried to project power and unity.

No staged photo-op can disguise the reality.

The 1997 Helsinki Summit was mocked as the “Summit of the Two Bypasses” (Clinton was recovering from a knee replacement surgery, while Yeltsin was barely over multiple bypass surgeries). Despite their health problems, they managed to propel forward arms’ control treaties.

The 2024 visit might be mocked as the “Summit of the Desperate”. (Could have been even more so, had they also invited Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.)

It’s true that President Steinmeier has nothing to lose as his tenure is secured until 2027 (and as Bundespräsident, he wields only minimal power, anyways).

On the other hand, President Macron and the real strongman of Germany, Chancellor Scholz are both fighting to keep their positions at the helm of their respective countries, and relations between the EU’s two political powerhouses are in decline, as well.

Macron’s press statements were full of campaign messages, that can be simplified into “if you vote for the far-right, the European Project can die”.

A desperate last-minute cry from a president who has lost most of his support at home. So did Scholz, mainly for the same reasons. Both forgot the needs of their own voters. If anything, it is this neglect that put said European Project in danger, not voters.

The latest French polls project a National Rally win, with 33 percent. Valérie Hayer, representing Macron’s Renaissance could be the second with 16 percent, but with a very close third, the French Socialist Place Publique (15 percent).

In Germany, Scholz’s SPD is at the same 16 percent as Macron’s party, while the CDU/CSU is projected to win 32 percent. The AFD, despite all the rumours and scandals around the party, is still around 15 percent, nearly level with Scholz’s Socialists. According to the last Forsa poll (May 2024), were the parliamentary elections held now, the SPD wouldn’t be able to create any coalition to get the majority without the CDU/CSU.

If the results of the EU election will be anywhere close to these numbers, it will prove that the actual German government has completely lost its support, because the SPD-FDP-Grüne would have only 157 seats, compared to the CDU/CSU’s 233 or the AFD’s 108 seats (in the new, reduced 630 seat parliament).

The time’s gone when things could go on as usual.

Ineffective governance is punished by the voters, whose living conditions deteriorated considerably since the last elections.

The Paris-Berlin axis might not be crumbling, but some pillars are shaking. Germany is more cautious when it comes to Ukraine (in fact, Scholz ruled out sending troops in Ukraine, something supported by Macron) or to European strategic autonomy.

These, especially the first, is a risky topic in war- (and military-) -averse Germany.

On the other hand, in his recent address at the Sorbonne, Macron stressed the urgency for Europe to navigate its altered geopolitical landscape, marked by Brexit, the COVID-19 pandemic, and Russia’s war against Ukraine. He warned that Europe must achieve greater sovereignty to remain a global force amidst the rise of autocratic powers and the US-China rivalry. Macron advocated for reducing dependency on geopolitical rivals and enhancing investment controls to safeguard critical infrastructure.

Macron’s enthusiasm to revive the Weimar Triangle and give more role to Poland on the European stage, also didn’t get as much sympathy from Berlin as Macron would have hoped. While Chancellor Scholz had a smile on his face in March, when they announced the news, he probably didn’t forget that Poland often acts as if Germany were an enemy and focuses on serving the US’s interests instead. And Poland probably didn’t forget either, that the French were less than eager to support EU enlargement to the east – one of the reasons the Weimar Triangle never really lived up to the expectations.

With Macron from one side and Warsaw from the other, Olaf Scholz and Germany would like to keep “things as they used to be”, maintaining the old-style EU-USA transatlantic relations instead of growing closer or pulling apart.

Neither is Berlin interested in severing relations with China, going against the Macron-von der Leyen tandem, who just recently (during Chinese President Xi’s Paris visit) started to flex the European Commission’s “economic muscles” against China again.

The “far-right parties” or “fascination with authoritarian regimes” are easy punching bags to blame for the failure of political leadership and inability to find a common ground. Given the challenges facing Europe – let it be the war in Ukraine, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the US-China rivalry or the dire economic problems – it would be vital that the two “greatest drivers behind European integration” would find a way.

Alas, with both leaders fighting tooth and nail for their survival, it is very likely that neither will be in a position from where they could project strength and unity.

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