Monday, November 2, 2009

Franco-German friendship: Symbols are not enough

Three months ago I was ringing the alarm bells for the Franco-German friendship by enumerating the problems between the two countries:
  • the difference between French deficit spending and German frugality,
  • the different security politics within NATO,
  • and the ministerial shift of pro-German agriculture minister Bruno LeMaire.
I might add another example for controversy with the German solar power plans in northern Africa, rivalling with French nuclear power plans in Morocco. And what about division between Merkel and Sarkozy about the future President of the European Council?

But given the new German government and its expansionary fiscal policy, Sarkozy fell in love with Germany again. Now France and Germany are demonstrating symbolic unity: The chancellor flew to France first thing after she was sworn in. Sarkozy will be in Germany to celebrate the 20th annivesairy of the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 11, followed by Merkel travelling to France, commemorating the end of the First World War.

For Sarkozy the honeymoon could well go a little bit farther than that:
  • German ministers joining French cabinet meetings and vice-versa.
  • A French minister for Germany and a German minister for France.
The SPIEGEL 45/2009 writes that this goes too far for Merkel's new government. French love for symbolism meets German love for pragmatic and output-oriented organization. In the chancellory, they don't think it would lead to any concrete results to have a French tourist with a political opinion at the cabinet table.

I like the message that would emanate from a French minister for Germany and vice-versa. But rather than on symbolism, the Franco-German friendship has to be based on concrete political results (as in the cooperation on the CAP). It has to be based on common positions in the international organizations and the EU. A German ministry for Europe, as argued by Deutsche Bank Research, could coordinate the positions of the German ministries in the Council and create more coherence between them. It could thereby coordinate policy with the French government which already has a ministry for European affairs.

In addition, the Franco-German partnership should support a strong diplomatic service of the European Union. If the European motor states don't back a common European position vis-à-vis China, India and the United States, Europe will become marginalized on the international scene. Recent actions by the US government show this very clearly.

But more important than political cooperation between France and Germany, there has to be a continued exchange between the citizens of our two countries via sister cities, study exchanges, language courses, scholarships and internship opportunities. The Franco-German friendship can only last if the citizens do not lose the interest in one another.

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