A perceptive look at the French Republic today indicates a decline of political power and a stagnation of leading political figures to direct successful domestic and foreign policy. Since the euro-crisis exposed the deficits of the Eurozone, Berlin has successfully introduced the mind-set of Ordoliberalism within the EU’s policies while maintaining a rather ambitious foreign policy. France can be no exception to the rule and has to fall in line with economic and fiscal agreements just like the rest of the member states, while fulfilling its role as Germany’s partner within the Union. How can Paris strategically project multilateralism and European autonomy in global governance, advance the debate of deeper integration and the Union’s higher politics and face emerging challenges? The Republic has to concurrently cope with Berlin’s political and economic influence while procuring the means to balance domestic and European priorities. Social outbursts like the Gilets Jaunes movement might as well de-escalate, populism however will not retreat from public life as long as national agendas allow predatory capitalism to collide with the integrative process. The term predatory capitalism was used by Helmut Schmidt in order to describe one of the greatest challenges Europe would face in the future. Along with it, Schmidt refers to economic and technological globalization, climate change, regional wars as well as American influence.
How can the aspiration of normative progress and global governance survive the backlash towards realpolitik in the 21st century? How can the EU’s multilateralism survive and influence an eroding international environment of national and authoritarian resurgences when it's clear that EU strategic partnerships are filling that policy gap? Despite the asymmetries of the emerging security environment, however which are shifting towards societal and humanitarian aspects, conventional national interests remain immensely strengthened. First, Germany will be required to look beyond beyond its dogmatic economic governance and grasp its vital and leading role within the Union without diffidence while the French Republic will have to introduce political stability and vision in order to successfully interact with Berlin. Then, if a higher Franco-German accord can be reinstated in order to introduce a more functional strategic governance for the Union, the original conception of the integrative process can surpass the multistructural crisis that enveloped it since the financial crisis of 2008. The 2019 Treaty of Aachen or otherwise known as the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle introduces new aspirations for Franco-German relations and lays the groundwork for a new model of shared sovereighty. The rising clashes however between economic elites and nationalist agendas as well as the emerging security environment around and within Europe threaten to fragment this strategic bilateral cooperation and divide the core of the EU.
Europe’s challenges in the 21st century.
After decades of crisis and divergences, Franco-German cooperation remains the core of the Union’s critical enabler for policy implementation. Although the acquis communautaire is the legal basis and the constitutional bedrock of the European Union, the close ties of France and Germany go far beyond coordinated cooperation. The two sides of the Rhine had to join if a Union of states was to be born in Europe. The original conception of the E.C.S.C, the E.A.E.C and the E.E.C and the interdependence they would consolidate among Europeans, was based on the functionality of the Franco-German cooperation, which today seems to be less and less determined to project leadership. Integration seems less and less possible since a number of diverging factors are threatening the functionality of the European Union. Eastern Europe is emerging as a coordinated political alliance seeking to solidify eurosceptiscism among member states, populism and conservatism are aligning with neoliberal plans in national politics, protectionism is dispersing in international politics, great power rivalry and regional destabilization are segregating integration and consensus. This overall decline of multilateralism and the verse towards de-globalization within societies, is leaving Europe vulnerable in a number of ways in both domestic and international affairs. How can the EU effectively counter the democratic deficit and national divergences, enhance societal security while safeguarding and expanding the international rules-based order? As long as the EU is perceived as an instrument of a profitable free market economy and external actors like the U.S, Russia and China provide divergences over security and national interests, the integrative process will deteriorate.
Victor Orban’s Hungary is experiencing the dispersal of authoritarianism in the media, education, the judicial system and public life while a recent employment reform known as ‘the slave law’ severely limits worker rights. Poland is on the same page with Hungary regarding authoritarian governance and anti-migration policy and is proving a major disputant of European integration and libertarianism. The once promising young republic of Eastern Europe has established an authoritarian governance while seeking alliances within the member states. The spread of such Eurosceptic elements in national politics and their influence on the European level has become a worrying pattern.
The EU’s disciplinary process against Hungary and Poland however seems to have no actual impact on their national politics. But the two majority governments in Warsaw and Budapest are not standing alone against European ideals and policies. Italy’s case may prove even more severe than the Visegrad group. Salvini’s neo-populism in Italy even if it de-escalates over time, it will remain a threat to the integrity of the euro-core not just over the budget disagreements, but because it is providing the Visegrad group a potential ally in the west. Defying Brussels and Berlin whether in migration policy or fiscal agreements and fundamental European values will eventually lead to fragmentation. Flexible integration and intergovernmentalism have already fractured the EU’s legal acquis towards a multi-speed Union of sectoral policies and interest based groups like the Hansa, Visegrad, the core, the South etc.
Divergences in economic and political governance but also in social aspects and over security issues are taking shape through policy implementation. To guarantee consensus in several issues and project moderation and determination, Berlin will require a potent French government in Paris in order to counter authoritarianism. The concurrent rise of Euroscepticism and populism in all member states on different levels and with very few exceptions has become the new normal in European politics.
At the same time, American protectionism and foreign policy as well as revisionist powers in the East discourage multilateral agendas to be introduced and cause conflict among member states. The fact that both Washington and Moscow have different strategic reasons to interact with Europeans bilaterally could prove critical for any Franco-German attempt to reassert influence and promote integration. The Franco-German cooperation will have to project the necessary flexibility and ambition in coping with Europe’s political, security and societal challenges by instilling a new political awareness on the European level. Trump’s rhetoric and policies are encouraging national agendas and diminish the Union’s ability to act coherently, even more so when domestic affairs in European states are centered on the effects of globalization. Politicization will be crucial in that regard.
However, the emergence of conservatism and the concurrent decline of multilateralism cannot only explain the stagnation of political vision in Europe. The identity crisis of liberal democracy and by extension the diminishing influence of institutions are interconnected with Schmidt’s definition of predatory capitalism as well as the impact of securitized mass migration. This trend can be depicted in both domestic and international affairs. Free market economy has been the wheel of integration and the main drive of globalization for consecutive decades. Nevertheless, nationalist elites seem to either be prone to protectionist policies or exploit the state of law like in the case of Hungary. Budapest’s ‘’slave law’’ in favor of businesses and corporations allows German investments in the country to keep rising. Rome’s showdown with Brussels also falls in this case. German capital and businesses are tied to Italy’s economy, so a budgetary compromise with the coalition government was expected. Franco-German cooperation is another example following the head of states’ bilateral visits in the White House. German car industries will justify any mean to avoid losing the extremely profitable US market. So would the French, especially if an accord between Washington and Berlin blindsides them. Europe’s integrated economy remains vastly useful to capitalist interests yet national elites and business interests won’t hesitate to find ways to undermine integration, worker rights and social welfare. This alignment of predatory capitalism with socio-political conservatism and the exploitation of nationalist agendas is gradually reorienting Europeans from the culture of compromise towards a rather Hobbesian state of survival.
A ‘Franco-German Entete’ for Europe
In order for the EU to achieve progress and surpass current security and governance challenges, the French Republic will have to be averted from the general nationalist rule. Only Paris can provide the necessary counterbalance to Berlin’s fiscal and neoliberal ethics and even then, only unbending political determination would allow ‘’politics of scale’’ to take place. If Franco-German cooperation cannot project multilateralism once again in foreign affairs and implement a redistributable and commensurate economic model on the European level, Europe’s supranationalism will eventually diminish by its inability to effectively counter societal and security challenges. This emerging version of a Europe of nation states, unlike De Gaulle’s intergovernmental union of nations, will keep straying from the path of compromise and supranationalist aspirations. Germany’s own path will determine how fast the EU will handle its intertemporal challenges. Nevertheless, the EU will have to start operating as a geopolitical power while its collective ability to decide and act domestically and externally will remain under Franco-German initiative.
The prevalence of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer as CDU’’s leader and new defense minister will preserve the party’s orientation in the political center and away from a clash with AfD’s influence on conservative voters. Although it remains to be seen if Kramp-Karrenbauer will manage to halt AfD’s popularity without turning further to the right, her victory will provide Berlin with political stability for the near future. The case of France, however, remains more complicated. The Republic is politically polarized, economically challenged and under social unrest. At the same time President Macron is trying to project power and multilateralism in foreign affairs. He may be of the few European leaders today with the will to progress the integration in security and defense and complete the economic union, however his calls for strategic autonomy cannot be heard. Without the support of the French people and Germany's influence over economic governance, the question of a french leading figure will remain a core political issue for Europe's strategic challenges. As long as the French President falls into the narrative of predatory capitalism in the eyes of the French, populism will eventually and collectively threaten Europe’s future by providing flexible solutions and political misconceptions. The stakes for France will remain immense. Having not to overstep at fiscal or deficit agreements while facing security challenges in Africa against Chinese influence and terrorist groups as well as over the Iran nuclear deal against the U.S will require Germany’s support.
The interdependence that integration provided for Europeans and the collective memory of the 20th century cannot alone constitute a higher level of Franco-German cooperation. Concurrently, the political alienation from the shared memory of the world wars is increasing as the older generation fades while new political challenges seek solutions within nationalism. The French Republic has so far prevented sliding into the spectrum of national-populism. But the Gilets Jaunes could lead the Republic towards a eurosceptic orientation regarding ties with Germany and Brussels. Yet the social outburst in France could gain pan-European characteristics by targeting Brussels and its current leadership and by forming a more permanent presence in the future. France’s domestic stability will depend greatly on how Macron will balance national and European agendas in order to cope with necessary reforms and the security agenda regarding regional European presence, migration and Euro-Atlantic relations. His term as president will be crucial for the Republic and the Union and prioritization will be critical especially in balancing domestic and fiscal obligations with the emerging European challenges. Chancellor Merkel’s term will also be paramount in consolidating a strategic understanding with France regarding socio-economic governance, integration, foreign affairs, scurity and the political degradation of libertarianism. Yet for politics of scale like a fiscal union for Germany or the ceding of the UN security council seat to the EU for France, will require far from simple bilateral cooperation.
The strategic capacity of European integration is historically tied with the future and the national aspirations on both sides of the Rhine. Witha shared vision between France and Germany, policy implementation can be reoriented on a European level in order for the Union to counter nationalist and populist resurgences. But as long as profitable bilateralism, national interests and non European actors interfere with the mind-set of constant compromise that was established over the decades, Franco-German cooperation will abolish its functional role within the Union. The diminishing influence of European awareness in politics and public life will remain the core challenge of Europe and without the necessary symbolisms to redefine its potential for the 21st century, it will fade though domestic socio-economic degradation and external influence . The newly elected European council president, Charles Michel along with the Luxembourgish PM Xavier Bettel, the Dutch Premier Mark Rutte and the Spanish coalition government will provide President Macron a liberal alliance, which he will need to reassert a new intergovermental consensus. Ursula von der Leyen, the new EU commission president, along with the new HR/VP Josep Borrell will represent the geopolitical and technological verse of the EU which will prove vital in contemporary challenges like migration, transatlantic relations, foreign policy and the European Sustainability Strategy 2030 among others. Brexit will be the first of those challenges while the crisis over the Iranian Nuclear Deal will surely test the resolve of Franco-German decision makers.
The higher mandate of European awareness will require the EU to remain within the prospect of providing the 21st century with multilateral governance and not by preserving its political and socio-economic state. By closing its doors and its eyes to the world, Europe will not prevent any challenge or avoid the security environment that is emerging. Soft power remains the Union’s true legacy and original conception. The Union’s role must remain the expansion of the rules-based order and the exportation of conditionality as well as the reintroduction of European identity. Therefore, a Franco-German Entete will be required in order to facilitate a shared strategic vision for integration which will reorient policy implementation in economy, foreign policy, societal security and European governance towards establising strategic sovereignty. Without this shared aspiration between Paris and Berlin to reform the EU and prevent its political and economic segregation, European autonomy and identity will only diminish as national politics gradually take over. In the rising Hobbesian environment of multipolarity and national backlashes, only through the alignment of Franco-German interests and political determination to redefine European identity and influence, can the Union maintain its integrity and original design in the changing and multidimensional 21st century.