Franco-German Relationship Reaches New Low

Addressing Global and European Challenges: Angela Merkel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo: Moritz Hager for World Economic Forum, flickr

On Friday, April 26, a French Parti Socialiste (PS) document on Europe was released, putting pressure on already strained Franco-German relations. The document accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of “selfish intransigence” in her unbending efforts to enforce austerity measures throughout the troubled eurozone.

As Europe’s economic troubles continue, particularly in France where growth has come to a standstill and unemployment is at record highs, faith in an austerity-driven recovery is quickly evaporating.

In the eyes of the PS, free-exchange and austerity measures are to blame for the continued economic frailty. Throughout the post-recession recovery efforts, Germany has stuck fast to a policy of pressuring debt-laden governments to control increasing deficits and focus on fiscal consolidation, explains France 24. French observers cite Merkel’s obsession with Berlin’s trade balance and her concern for her own electoral future as expressions of her culpability.

The comments provoked some harsh criticism from a wide of array of political parties in both France and Germany.

Minister of Finance Pierre Moscovici said that talk of confrontation was totally counter-productive, while other French ministers condemned and rebuked Claude Bartolone, PS speaker of the National Assembly, for calling for “confrontation” with Berlin.

François Fillon and Jean-François Copé, prominent members of the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), released a joint report stating that Hollande’s “shameful behaviour” toward Germany had produced a “catastrophic result.” France, they believe, is becoming increasingly more isolated in Europe.

If France desired more influence in Europe, it would need to adopt a “responsible policy” towards accepting the need to restore public finances, according to Minister for the Budget Bernard Cazeneuve.

Across the Rhine, Philipp Missfelder, the spokesperson for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), was angered by criticism coming from one of his country’s closest allies, France 24 reported. He described the comments in the report as “insolence by the French Socialists,” emphasizing that “Germany cannot be held responsible for the state of the French economy.”

Another deputy leader for the CDU, Andreas Schockenhoff, said the comments were evidence of the Socialists’ despair, who have not found a solution to the country’s economic and financial problems after a year in power.

Handelsblatt, a German daily newspaper, released a German government internal  memo, which was compiled for Philipp Rösler, German Vice Chancellor and Federal Minister of Economics and Technology and leader of the center-right Free Democratic Party. Highly critical of the French government’s management, the memo targets French industry for losing its competitiveness, citing increasing labor costs and dwindling investment in research and development.

Perhaps the most severe criticism was found in the same memo, an analysis entitled “France – Europe’s biggest problem child.” The analysis criticized France’s highly regulated labor market and social welfare system. “When we talk about liberalisation of the labor market or productivity, they talk about new social indicators or education,” explained a senior German government official in another report.

In an effort to ease tensions, President François Hollande explained that there are no alternatives to Europe’s two biggest economies working together. There is “no need” to attack the leader of a country, “particularly Germany,” just in order to make point, Hollande said.

On Monday, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault also emphasized the importance of the Franco-German relationship, saying it depended on “intense and respectful dialog.” He even tweeted, in French and in German, “The German-French friendship is central to giving the European project new momentum and to rediscovering the way to growth.”

Despite attempts by Hollande’s government to distance itself from the embarrassment caused by the PS’s comments, Hollande has been fairly open about what he calls “friendly tensions” with Berlin. Ayrault commented on the necessity of debate over policies in the “rich, nourished” relations between the two countries.

Within the respective governments, certain officials have refused to comment on the incident, hinting that the ideological divide may be considerably larger than the two countries would wish to admit.

Thomas Klau, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations in Paris, said in a Financial Times report, “It is a very rocky period for the bilateral relationship. The difficulties are being aggravated by the feeling [in Berlin] that Hollande doesn’t have control over his troops.”

Hugo Brady of the Centre for European Reform in Brussels told the AFP news agency, “Relations are probably at a post-war low… The French are insecure over the state of their economy, while the Germans are over-confident about theirs. So they don’t have anything to say to each other. That’s the biggest single problem the eurozone has right now.”

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