In the Élysée Palace, it is important not to fall into sentimentalism. Yes, Angela Merkel’s tenure is coming to an end. But no, when the German chancellor comes to Paris on Thursday evening for a meal with President Emmanuel Macron, it’s not about saying goodbye. What matters is that you keep working. Afghanistan, European cooperation on climate protection, defense policy – the problems are big and urgent.
In Paris it was emphasized that the German election campaign would not affect the efficiency of cooperation. But beyond the confirmation, nervousness slowly sets in. With Olaf Scholz (SPD) and Armin Laschet (CDU), devoted friends of France are fighting for the chancellery, but the Élysée expects tough months. The German election campaign shows a lot of unpredictability, they say. In other words, it is to be feared that long coalition negotiations in Berlin will delay German-French cooperation – if not all European policy in Brussels.
Macron has experienced what it means when Berlin is engaged in self-discovery in 2017. Elected only in the spring, he delivered his famous Sorbonne speech on September 26, setting out the vision of a strong, united, deepened European Union. A big French bounty two days after the German general election. It was then that the impression emerged that the Macron/Merkel relationship would form: Macron rushes forward, Merkel waits. At that moment, all of Germany was waiting. The new government was not formed until March 2018.
The top topic is “European sovereignty”
France fears the inhibiting effect of further complicated coalition negotiations, especially because the coming months will count there. In January, it will take over the presidency of the Council of the EU while the country’s final phase of the presidential election campaign begins. Even if Macron’s candidacy is not yet official, there is no doubt that the incumbent president will run for reelection in April 2022. The presidency of the Council of the EU is also intended as a means of convincing voters of Macron’s assertiveness on European issues. But that can only succeed if the search for a government in Berlin is completed.
“European sovereignty” tops the list of Brussels issues France wants to negotiate with Germany. The slogan is a favorite formula in the Élysée. Defence, health, digital change, carbon emissions: when it comes to the big problems, Paris is pushing for a pan-European solution more than Berlin – what some German critics would see as a Franco-European solution.
The fact that European policy issues hardly play a role in the German election campaign is carefully recorded in Paris. One can see this positively, says the Élysée, and conclude that no party that can rule in Germany questions EU membership. Looking more pessimistically, one could also get the idea that Germany is withdrawing into itself.