The Ukraine ceasefire talks and the latest convolutions of the Greek debt crisis have strengthened the working relationship between Angela Merkel and François Hollande. This common cause has reinforced French-German cooperation across the board. EURACTIV France reports.
“It was a pleasure to meet Angela Merkel today,” François Hollande said on 20 February at a press conference with the Chancellor.
“We have not been apart for a long while, with the amount of time we have spent on the phone to one another recently,” the French President joked.
The German Chancellor had come to Paris to prepare for two important events: the G7, which will take place in Elmau, Bavaria, on 7 and 8 June, and a French-German council of ministers, scheduled for the end of March in Paris.
The intense diplomatic activity of the French-German couple on the subject of Ukraine has eclipsed the efforts of the European Institutions. Neither Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, nor Donald Tusk, the European Council President, took part in the latest round of cease-fire negotiations between Ukraine and Russia, which took place in the Belarussian capital, Minsk.
Initially celebrated, the ceasefire agreement has produced mixed results, judging by the situation on the ground. But negotiating side by side has pushed the French and German leaders ever closer together.
“We spent a long night and a long morning,” on the second Minsk agreement, Hollande said, praising the “tenacity” of his counterpart. The discussions leading up to this agreement went on for 17 hours, but the leaders are not excessively worried that the text signed by the two sides on 12 February has yet to translate into concrete results on the ground.
“We are under no illusion that the peace process in Ukraine will take time,” Merkel commented.
Joint refusal of Grexit
The two leaders have also formed a united front on the question of Greece.
Hollande said “France’s position is that everything should be done, on both the Greek and the European side, to ensure the strong cohesion of the eurozone”.
A sentiment echoed by Merkel, who said, “since we have had a programme for Greece, our political action has been aimed at keeping Athens in the eurozone […] and we will do all we can to follow this path”.
Finally, the German Chancellor congratulated Hollande on the adoption of the Macron bill of economic reforms by the French Parliament. “France does not need my encouragement, but I think it is a good thing that this bill was adopted. Other countries would do well to do the same thing for employment and economic growth,” she said.
Ukraine: a shared challenge
Managing the crisis was not part of the programme and has only brought mitigated success, but this situation, considerably more urgent than the Greek question, has pushed the two countries to work together in a concrete way.
“There is no more tension, there is only reciprocity. But the two-and-a-half hour ‘Normandy format’ phone calls, often on a Sunday, are not a pleasurable experience,” a French advisor confided.
The “Normandy format” negotiations – a difficult dialogue between France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia – first took place at last spring’s commemorations of the WW2 Normandy landings.
President Hollande said that “as long as we have the opportunity to look for diplomatic solutions, we will continue to work in this direction. We want to make progress, we do not want stagnation, crisis or war”.
Beyond the current diplomatic operations, the French and German leaders evidently plan to cement their new relationship by presenting shared digital and energy projects for the Juncker plan at their joint council of ministers on 31 March.