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Europe’s Futile Search for Franco-German Leadership

Summary:
Recent foreign-policy differences have underlined the diverging interests of the European Union's two most powerful member states. And even if France and Germany were to march in lockstep, a bloc of 27 states bound by a unanimity requirement will never be a strategic actor. HAMBURG – For decades, France and Germany have been known as Europe’s ruling “tandem” or “couple,” even its “engine.” Together, they aimed to work to unify the continent. But, to pile up the metaphors, the French want to drive the jointly leased Euro-Porsche, while the Germans insist on rationing the gas money. As a long list of crises – from Belarus to Nagorno-Karabakh – now shows, the two countries are not following the same road map.

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Recent foreign-policy differences have underlined the diverging interests of the European Union's two most powerful member states. And even if France and Germany were to march in lockstep, a bloc of 27 states bound by a unanimity requirement will never be a strategic actor.

HAMBURG – For decades, France and Germany have been known as Europe’s ruling “tandem” or “couple,” even its “engine.” Together, they aimed to work to unify the continent. But, to pile up the metaphors, the French want to drive the jointly leased Euro-Porsche, while the Germans insist on rationing the gas money. As a long list of crises – from Belarus to Nagorno-Karabakh – now shows, the two countries are not following the same road map.

That is not surprising. As former German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel has put it, France and Germany “view the world differently” and thus have “distinct interests.” The truth is that Franco-German divergence is almost as old as the European Union.

That division bedevils the current French and German leaders – President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel – as much as it did their towering predecessors, Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer, ever since the two of them linked hands across the Rhine 60 years ago. They were to turn ancient enemies into trusted friends. But states don’t marry. They obey interests, not each other.

When two powers are so closely matched, the issue always is: Who leads, and who follows? The hyperactive Macron certainly wants to run Europe (as, truth be told, all of his predecessors in the Élysée Palace have sought to do). Meanwhile, the plodding Merkel keeps stressing German priorities.

The current divergence is also a matter of personalities....

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