Daily Management Review

Why the new Aachen Treaty cannot save France-Germany relation


Speaking at the signing of the Aachen Treaty, Angela Merkel dwelt in some detail on the fact that the new version will help the parties better understand each other. At the same time, she added that it will require a lot of work.

Cobber17, Jpbazard
Cobber17, Jpbazard
Chancellor Merkel knew very well what she was talking about. Berlin and Paris have many fundamental disagreements, which almost prevented signing of the Aachen Treaty. Perhaps the most unpleasant thing for the Europeans is that Berlin and Paris argue both on trifles and on such vital issues as creation of a pan-European army and the export of weapons. As Spiegel told, the chances of signing the Aachen Treaty were extremely low due to serious disagreements. The situation was only saved by a secret agreement between Germany and France, but it was far from ideal.

Disputes between Germany and France on almost all issues are a long story. They have arisen since the very creation of the European Union and have not ceased ever since. Relations between Berlin and Paris sharply worsened a year and a half ago, in the fall of 2017, when French President Emmanuel Macron revealed his vision of a future Europe in a keynote speech at the Sorbonne University. Berlin reacted to the performance of the French leader with deafening silence, which clearly showed attitude of the Germans.

France, led by President Macron, was clearly offended. Since then, both countries have argued on all issues, ranging from the single budget of the eurozone to the smallest details of the tax law on large high-tech companies.

The cold shoulder that France offers to Berlin’s long-time dream of becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council is clearly not conducive to improving relations between the two countries.

The most overt disagreements between Berlin and Paris appeared in February 2019 in relation to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. The French have always claimed that they are in a neutral position, but within a few days and weeks after the signing of the Aachen Treaty they unexpectedly spoke out against the gas pipeline and, accordingly, the German allies. France, quite unexpectedly for Germany, expressed support for the controversial directive of the European Commission, which could seriously hinder this project. The situation put the united Europe on the brink of division. At the same time, a statement by the French Foreign Ministry emphasized that Paris had never concealed a skeptical attitude towards the gas pipeline, but Berlin preferred to object to it and stay unaware of the doubts.

Another serious conflict between the allies exists in the sphere of a joint security and arms export policy. For historical reasons, Germany acts with restraint and resort to the use of the Bundeswehr only in extreme cases. Paris, on the other hand, considers itself a global power that is capable and must maintain order throughout the world. Therefore, France refers to the use of military force as an ordinary diplomatic move.

The views of Paris and Berlin differ greatly on the arms trade. Paris believes that sale of weapons to all buyers, including and such “problematic” ones like Saudi Arabia, as fully justified actions to protect national interests. In turn, Berlin is somehow skeptical about this. 

Before signing of the Treaty of Aachen, diplomats had argued whether strict German standards in the arms trade could be applied to joint defense projects. In the end, this problem was solved with the help of a secret agreement. Its essence is that the parties cannot block sales of jointly produced weapon systems.

After the murder of Arab journalist Khashoggi last fall, Chancellor Merkel imposed a ban on arms exports to KSA. This ban negatively affected the arms exports of France. Macron was instantly indignant at the arbitrariness of Berlin. In addition, Berlin also proposed adoption of a European directive on the export of arms. The French president, obviously, had not yet forgotten the reaction to his speech at the Sorbonne, qualified this proposal as an attempt by Berlin to dictate its policy and immediately rejected it.

The secret agreement may have saved the Aachen Treaty, but hasn’t help in resolving disagreements over the export of weapons - including for the reason that it was compiled in rather vague terms.

Despite constant statements about deepening cooperation, Berlin and Paris still have many disagreements in the field of security. 

When it comes to military operations abroad, Germany continues to occupy a position different from the positions of other European countries and, first of all, France. Each such operation requires a separate permission of the Bundestag. The allies are fed up with such red tape, and they become increasingly less likely to ask permission from Berlin. When the United States, Britain and France launched rocket attacks on the positions of government troops in Syria in April 2018, they did not even invite Germans to participate in the operation.

More and more experts are coming to the conclusion that the recently signed Treaty of Aachen can only be a temporary truce, and not a solid and long peace. 

source: reuters.com, spiegel.de