France is no longer taking Germany seriously

Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. [EPA-EFE/FILIP SINGER]

Official German politics has shown a professionally arrogant disregard for Emmanuel Macron’s reform ideas. Now the French president is retaliating. EURACTIV’s media partner Der Tagesspiegel reports.

Just a few days ago, Macron called his country’s relationship with Germany a “fruitful confrontation”.

After years of professional whitewashing in the assessment of Franco-German relations, it appears we have entered a phase where honesty and realism are taking over, at least from the French side.

It was a slow process, initiated by German officials, who showed a professional yet arrogant disregard for Macron’s reform ideas. Particularly the ruling parties in Germany, the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Christian Socialists (CSU), have shown great reservation towards closer European cooperation.

But that is exactly what Emmanuel Macron is striving to achieve. Macron, who inherited France from a weak predecessor, is dealing with a country riddled by massive economic, and social problems.

The backlog of reforms on the other side of the Rhine reminds us of Germany before it initiated its own labour market reforms, also known as Hartz reforms. At that time, there was talk of Germany being the ‘sick man’ of Europe, something Social Democrats (SPD) do not like hearing these days.

Macron now wants to force his compatriots to follow precisely this path for reform, the one that made Germany economically strong again. Instead of being supportive, Germans are not responding to Macron’s bid for support – as if German Chancellor Merkel, who is otherwise so suspicious of any new development, had lost all sensibility.

But one thing remains certain: if Macron fails in his mandate, the next French presidential election will probably be won by far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

And this would be the end of Europe as we know it.

Former elite school graduate grounded again

It was following this situation, that the French president stated that France’s relationship with Germany is one of ‘fruitful confrontation’.

The gilets jaunes uprising, which not only conceals extremist forces but also lives from the plight of the French middle class and their concern of soon becoming dependent on the state, has grounded the former elite school graduate, again.

Macron’s message to the French people: Germany is no longer a role model.

The Germans built their prosperity on production in low-wage countries and have held on to something similar to ‘production colonies’. But Macron’s social project will not be like that.

The French president actually described the German economy quite accurately.

And exploiting the cheap production conditions available in low-wage countries is also proving to be a dead end. There too, wages are increasing, meaning more production needs to be brought back to Europe, even to Germany.

The downfall of German self-confidence

The German economy is suddenly benefitting from something that politicians have been ignoring for a long time: A good local economy is capable of keeping an economy going even when wages are increasing, as this will boost consumption. The French have always attached great importance to this aspect, and now see it being confirmed.

But this is only one of the reasons for France’s growing pride and self-confidence towards its German neighbours. Another one is the noticeable decline of Germany’s own self-confidence.

If the words of renowned German author Hermann Hesse “there is magic in every beginning” are correct, then its reversal must also be true: every farewell is covered by a veil of resignation and grief.

There is this feeling that currently hangs like a shadow over German politics. Following the difficult coalition formation in the German Bundestag, perceived apprenticeship positions in the administration have now become vacancies, yet Germany continues to lecture other nations despite being rather hesitant itself.

If Chancellor Merkel’s successor turns out to be Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who seriously advises that the French should renounce their permanent seat in the UN Security Council in favour of a European seat, and calls for the EU Parliament to give up its seat in Strasbourg, Macron will not be the only one to realise that Germany does not actually care for the interests of other nations.

Germany must attempt to first find itself before it can become Europe’s leading partner again.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

Further Reading

Macron admits to Franco-German splits on key issues

French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday (25 April) admitted differences with German counterpart Angela Merkel on Brexit, trade and energy policy, saying "fruitful confrontations" and compromises were part of ties between their countries.

En Marche vs Merkel: Macron's party criticises German Chancellor for not being bold enough

Merkel and Macron do not go hand in hand when it comes to the European elections. The French ruling party is using this for verbal attacks on the German Chancellor. EURACTIV’s media partner Der Tagesspiegel reports.

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