Harmony was the name of the game during Emmanuel Macron's three-day visit to Germany this week. In Dresden the French president emphasized the importance of defending democracy and Europe and at a meeting with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier the strong ties between the two countries were emphasized. The clear differences in stance between German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Macron on issues such as Ukraine were dismissed as trivial. Commentators discuss to what extent this is true.

Germany annoyed by Macron's leadership posturing

A leadership conflict has flared up between Paris and Berlin, the second strongest advocate of supplying arms to Ukraine after Washington, comments Germanist Jacques-Pierre Gougeon in Le Monde:

“Berlin is irritated to see the French president presenting himself as the leader of Europe. This is one of the reasons why Olaf Scholz's negative reaction was so scathing when the French president raised the possibility of deploying ground troops. This head-on opposition testifies to the rejection of an unspoken French assumption that France, as the EU's only nuclear power since the departure of the UK, has a sort of 'natural' leadership role in the military sphere. ... The question of a shared leadership must now be addressed openly.” (Jacques-Pierre Gougeon)

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Together against the loose cannon

For Népszava, it's clear that the two major European powers have had enough of Hungary's vetoes:

WORLD BRIEFING: July 7, 2024
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“In recent years the German-French axis has not worked effectively enough, but now both Macron and Scholz are beginning to realize that there is no other option: they have to work together. ... But the fundamental precondition for this is to simplify decision-making in the EU, in other words to exclude the possibility of vetoes. And this is the one issue on which there is no dispute between Macron and Scholz. They find it unacceptable for any one country to be able to paralyze the functioning of the EU with constant vetoes or threats of vetoes.” (Tamás Rónay)

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Notoriously non-unanimous partners

We should not be deceived by this demonstrative show of friendship, says Radio Kommersant FM:

“Berlin and Paris are increasingly polarized, both in their respective domestic policy, including economic policy (when the conservatives are in power in Germany the left is often in power in France, and vice versa), and in foreign policy. The Franco-German tandem is increasingly faltering. And it's no coincidence that for some time now Paris has found it easier to find backing in Mediterranean countries such as Spain or Italy than in Germany on many issues. In recent months, the Franco-German rift has been most evident in the two countries' stances on Russia and the Ukraine conflict.” (Maxim Yusin)

The little ones sometimes lead the way

The EU's problem is the divergence between what it says and what it does, writes the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung:

“This is particularly true of the Franco-German tandem, which benefits not only from state visits, but above all from joint action. The world no longer primarily revolves around Europe, so Macron is correct in saying that there can be no purely national or purely Atlantic solutions. However, European solutions were often too weak or came too late, also in Ukraine. ... Sometimes it is the small states that show how Macron's 'powerful and sovereign Europe' can be achieved. Belgian politicians are rarely invited to give major speeches in Germany or receive prizes here. But the country has now promised Ukraine 30 F-16 fighter jets.” (Nikolas Busse)

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Contentious issues prevail

For Lidové noviny the differences between Berlin and Paris are huge:

“While the French president repeatedly emphasizes that the EU countries must become more economically and militarily independent of the US, German Chancellor Scholz is far more cautious. Berlin still sees the US as the key guarantor of security for Germany, whereas it views the partnership with France as supplementary - even in the event that the trend towards turning away from Europe prevails in the US after the election in November. This attitude is also shared by the largest opposition party in Germany - the CDU - which has a chance of winning the country's elections in a year's time.” (Robert Schuster)

An odd couple

The path towards a good friendship between the two leaders is still a long one, L'Obs remarks:

“While the president and the chancellor agree on the need to strengthen Europe in the face of competition from the two global giants, they remain at odds over the importance of nuclear energy, budget strategy, trade agreements and the degree of protectionism. ... 'Franco-German relations are all about airing differences of opinion and trying to find ways to compromise,’ points out Hélène Miard-Delacroix, a specialist in German history at the Sorbonne. But for Olaf Scholz, with his Nordic reserve, and Emmanuel Macron, who is always ready to question the obvious, the path is proving longer than usual.”

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Speed it up, please!

The Frankfurter Rundschau fears ugly consequences if Macron and Scholz don't get their act together soon:

“The dispute over the impending car tariffs against China, for example, could jeopardize jobs and thus Europe's prosperity. This in turn will fuel fears among the population, from which right-wing populist or even far-right parties have benefited to date. The EU states are capable of standing together when they are challenged from outside. At least that was the case when US President Donald Trump put pressure on the European allies. ... But to solve the many problems, a faster pace would be good. The Franco-German engine can ensure this.” (Andreas Schwarzkopf)

Waiting for the next government

France is expecting a change of government in Germany, writes Rzeczpospolita:

“The dramatically low approval rating for the SPD (around 15 percent) means that there is a growing temptation in Paris to 'sit out' the current government. There are many indications that Scholz's office will be taken over by CDU/CSU leader Friedrich Merz in just over a year's time. The opinion on the Seine is that although the Christian Democrat will remain just as principled on financial issues, he is likely to be more open to co-operation with the French in other areas.” (Jędrzej Bielecki)

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The third moment of European unity

The Weimar Triangle is Europe's only chance, writes French MEP Bernard Guetta in La Repubblica:

“At a time when dangers such as we haven't seen since 1939 are piling up on our borders, the EU has the French army as its only defense. ... That's why, as soon as the Poles drove the anti-German right wing back into opposition, the Weimar Triangle awoke from its slumber. ... Inevitable conflicts of interest will put a brake on the march towards a common defense. ... But the rapprochement of these three countries is the harbinger of what is becoming, before our eyes, the third moment of European unity. After the single market and the single currency, now comes political unity.”

See the original here.

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