Wednesday, October 20

France tries to be the star of Europe before Merkel’s withdrawal

The end of the mandate of Angela Merkel worries and excites in France. On the one hand, the lack of stability that the change of government entails is scary. On the other hand, it is also an opportunity to gain weight in Europe and in the world. In addition, the change occurs with two key dates for France in sight: the rotating presidency of the European Union that that country will assume from January 1 and the presidential elections in April 2022.

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The Franco-German axis

On election day in Germany, as millions of citizens headed to the polls, the French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune, insisted in the local press on the need to maintain good understanding with the neighboring country.

“There will be no change in the importance of the Franco-German relationship. Our projects in economic, industrial and defense cooperation are irreversible. This is irreplaceable,” he said in an interview in Le Journal de Dimanche. He also recalled that the relationship is solid, but not exclusive. “We complement it with traditional partners, such as Italy and Spain, others less obvious, such as the Netherlands and the Nordic countries.”

For Elisa Goudin, specialist in contemporary Germany and professor of Germanic studies at La Sorbonne Nouvelle, the coalition between the two countries is not in danger, whatever the future German government. “There is no reason to think that Germany, or its relationship with France, will weaken,” he tells “However, France will try to use the future presidency of the European Union to gain weight in Europe and promote its interests.”

Fear of liberals

However, the possible entry of the Liberal Party (FDP) into the Government could generate tensions with France in the European Union. “There is concern about his economic policy and his vision for Europe,” said Elisa Goudin. “They are radically opposed to the mutualisation of European debt, something that France wants to prolong and that could cause tensions.”

During the presidency of the European Union, the Government of Emmanuel Macron will try to lead the economic recovery after the pandemic and advance on issues such as cybersecurity, migration or defense. “We should not expect the Americans to do everything and we cannot limit ourselves to acting only at the national level,” said Clément Beaune, referring to the submarine crisis that has pitted France against the United States and Australia.

In this context, Paul Maurice, a researcher at the Committee for the Study of Franco-German Relations (Cerfa), considers that a chancellor like Olaf Scholz or Armin Laschet is more comforting and reassuring for France, since they are partners with whom they have already worked. Proof of this is that the French president recently received both candidates, separately, at the Elysee Palace.

Europe in the world

Beyond the synergies within the European Union, Merkel leaves power at a time of redefining the place that Europe occupies in the world, especially in relation to the United States and China.

“The big question is whether Germany, which has always been very transatlantic and has been closely tied to the United States, will position itself on the side of Europe in a possible conflict with China or will it follow the Americans,” says Paul Maurice.

For her part, Elisa Goudin believes that the great challenge for France and Germany will be to avoid being caught in the middle of the rivalry between the United States and China. “This will only be possible if the Europeans are united. The French and the Germans have a common interest in going hand in hand and being stronger.”

French socialists bet on Scholz

The socialist presidential candidate and mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, was the first to publicly congratulate Olaf Scholz after his result. “All my support to Olaf Scholz, who will be, I hope, the next chancellor”, posted on Twitter. The support of the mayor was also visible during the electoral campaign. Hidalgo traveled to Colonia to attend the last meeting of the now winner of the elections.

“For the French socialists, Scholz’s victory is hopeful. The SPD was considered dead and has finally managed to come back from the CDU, something unthinkable a few months ago. In France the same thing happens, it is said that the Socialist Party (PS ) has its days numbered, so the strategy of the Germans to be reborn is interesting “.

The proximity between the two parties is also visible in the European Union. “The two are part of the same group in the European Parliament,” says researcher Paul Maurice. “For Anne Hidalgo, this endorsement is a way to show that, as a candidate, she has the legitimacy to debate on different issues with her German partner and potential future chancellor.” The mayor of Paris recently announced her candidacy for the presidential election, but she faces a divided left.

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