France and Germany – dance and contra dance

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By FLAVIO AGUIAR*

The two countries have been showing strategic fissures in relations, which are eroding the stability of the European Union from within.

“The king sent for me!\ The king sent for me!\ Home with his fiancée…\ He only gave me as a dowry\ Oropa, France and Bahia!\ I remembered my little ranch\ My farm, my beans... The king sent for me!\ The king sent for me!\ Oh my king, I said no!” (Brazilian Congo).

After centuries-old mutual hostilities and many wars, France and Germany sealed peace on January 22, 1963, through the signing of a Treaty of Friendship, also known as the Treaty of the Champs-Elysées Palace. Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer signed it, almost 18 years after the end of the Second World War.

The reconciliation was corroborated by the gesture of the French President, François Mitterand, and the German Prime Minister, Helmut Kohl, honoring, hand in hand, on September 22, 1984, the soldiers of the two countries who fell in the battle of Verdun, during the First World War. This reconciliation was fundamental in laying the foundations for the creation of the European Union, on February 7, 1992, through the Maastricht Treaty, which came into force on November 1 of the following year.

The reconciliation between France and Germany became the cornerstone, the fulcrum and the lever (I was going to say “axis”, but I thought the word would be inappropriate in such a context) of the European Union, a condition reinforced 23 years later when the United Kingdom withdrew of it, after a disastrous plebiscite promoted by the then London Prime Minister David Cameron.

That solid base condition (I was going to say “retaining wall”, but I thought “wall” was not an appropriate word here either) of the European Union had virtuous moments, for example, in the very harmonious coexistence between Chancellor Angela Merkel and the president Nicolas Sarkozy. Not even the election in France of the socialist François Hollande, who was not much of a socialist beyond the name of his party, disturbed the appearance of such harmony.

Appearance? Yes, because beneath the surface of virtuous coexistence, some seeds of dissension grew, pointing to discord. For example, the energy matrix of both countries was very different. France relied heavily on nuclear energy, while Germany increasingly moved away from it and began to depend more and more on Russian gas.

Other strategic differences emerged little by little, especially in terms of the level of enthusiasm with the adoption of the common currency, the euro, which is larger in Germany than in France, and also in matters of continental security. And the terrain for the emergence of such differences became more favorable after the election of the impulsive Emmanuel Macron in France and the hesitant Olaf Scholz in Germany. Emmanuel Macron is described as an impulsive, loud politician, willing to accept risks and admit mistakes and course corrections. Olaf Scholz, on the other hand, has a profile much more marked by ecclesiastical sobriety, caution and slowness, despite the impulsive outbursts of his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Green and the somewhat mouthy Annalena Baerbock.

The war in Ukraine and its consequences was the wedge that expanded the field of tensions and disagreements, even if they were disguised by the smiles and handshakes in the official photos.

Pressured by the United States and the United Kingdom, through NATO, to send German Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, Olaf Scholz, at first, hesitated. Emmanuel Macron took advantage of this to promise, without consulting his neighbor on the other side of the Rhine, French armor for Kiev. After all, with the increase in external and internal pressure, especially through the Green Party transformed into VerdeOliva, Olaf Scholz gave in. But the fissure was open.

Another fissure opened when Olaf Scholz announced, also without consulting or warning his Parisian colleague beforehand, the creation of a 200 billion euro fund to subsidize energy costs catapulted by the sudden drop in the supply of Russian gas. The measure was received with reservations in Paris and other neighboring countries, fearing a cascade effect that would further destabilize the already fluctuating industrial and related costs of imports and exports to and from Germany.

Other fissures were opening. Emmanuel Macron talks, on the one hand, about sending troops to the battlefield in Ukraine, and on the other, about maintaining a “dialogue” with Russia. Scholz expresses distrust about sending troops, but Germany has been toughening its tone with Moscow accusing Russian hackers for disruptions in the strategic space of German cybernetics. Berlin has been advocating the establishment of a European “security shield” against Russia, using North American inputs, which displeases the French military industry which, in turn, in the arms race that has taken place in Europe, does not shows very willing to share secrets with her neighbors.

The announcement by the president of the European Commission, Úrsula von der Leyen, that frozen Russian funds will finance weapons and other benefits for Ukraine, will increase the temperature of this warlike cultural broth that is already close to boiling in Europe. Not to mention that this true confiscation would, in itself, be a good reason for a war with terrible effects throughout the world.

These fissures have been eroding the stability of the Union from within, combined with attacks against it by far-right parties in Germany, the Netherlands, France itself, Spain, Italy, Portugal and other countries, and the economic and social instability caused due to the austerity plans that are still in force across the continent.

When it was born, the European Union seemed like a helmsman steering a ship towards a world of peace as if it were its queen, after wars that destroyed the continent and much of the world. Today, weakened, she may still govern something on this ship loose in the midst of the storm. But she no longer reigns.

* Flavio Aguiar, journalist and writer, he is a retired professor of Brazilian literature at USP. Author, among other books, of Chronicles of the World Upside Down (boitempo). [https://amzn.to/48UDikx]

Originally published in the magazine International Observatory of the XNUMXst Century, no. 5.


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