You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Fractured friendships threaten Europe’s unity

Crikey logo Crikey 9/12/2022 Christopher Warren
© Provided by Crikey

This past week, like unhappy partners arguing it out before friends and family, France and Germany have been out in the world. France in the strutting grandeur of a state visit by President Emmanuel Macron to the United States, and Germany in a deeply serious essay-length rumination by Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

The European Union was built off long-term unity between the two, who, between them, still speak for a third of the EU’s population. Now, across Europe, countries are starting to plan for a different European Union, where the fracturing of the big two’s relationship holds both danger and opportunities.

© Provided by Crikey

Six months after the invasion began, a bloody stalemate in Ukraine is bad news for European unity

Read More

At its heart lies a disagreement between how the European institutions should respond to the twin external shocks of the past eight years — Russia’s two-step invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and 2022 (and their political meddling in between) and the apparent disengagement of the English-speaking world through Brexit, Trump and AUKUS. 

It’s been made more dangerous by the emergent solidarity between far-right governments, starting with Poland and Hungary. Although those two have now fallen out over their very different attitudes to the Russian invasion (a threat in Warsaw, an opportunity in Budapest), the nexus has been strengthened with the post-fascist government in Italy raising fears of its defection from a once reliable ally of the big two to leader of the far-right, um, axis.

It’s a split playing out this week in the fight over the proposal to freeze Hungary’s regular payment of  €7.5 billion over its so-called rule-of-law transgressions with its restrictions on media, opposition parties and civil society. Even after France and Germany came together to back a partial suspension, central and eastern European members remain confident in shaking off the big two, now with Italy’s backing.

The cracks in the relationship can be heard loudest in the sounds of silence: back in October, a long-scheduled Franco-German ministerial meeting was put off, for the first time since 1963. Both capitals waved it off as “just a scheduling matter” and Scholz squeezed in a hurried “we’re really still pals” visit to Paris (where Macron declined a joint press conference). 

Most observers preferred to note that the suspension followed on from the not-so-oblique words of Macron: “It is not a good thing for Europe for Germany to isolate itself.” It reflected French frustration with Germany’s apparent go-it-alone “irresponsible” €200 billion response to the energy crisis caused by the ending of Russian gas. Macron (and the rest of Europe) is arguing for an EU-wide solution.

In early November, the fractures showed again with Scholz travelling to China as the first foreign leader to meet a reappointed Xi Jinping. Macron offered to come along (according to off-the-record briefings); Scholz shook him off.

More long-term, France is concerned about increasing German competition for its arms industry (already shaken by Australia’s own submarine fiasco) in the face of Scholz’s zeitenwende (“turning point”) declaration that Germany would lead European NATO countries in a 2% of GDP spend on military, with German-made armaments. 

The two countries disagree about the future of the union itself: Scholz says he wants the work done to bring in the still excluded West Balkan countries that fell out of the break-up of Yugoslavia, together with a plan for Moldava and Ukraine who were recognised as EU candidates earlier this year.

Macron is trying to create a two-tier Europe, with a tighter EU inside a larger European group of nations. The right-led governments (represented by the European Conservative and Reformist Group in the European Parliament) want to head in the opposite direction with looser EU controls that respect the sovereignty of member-states.

© Provided by Crikey

As populism plummets in Europe, fascism once again rears its ugly head to fill the void

Read More

Germany is bearing the brunt of the criticism from Ukraine and its supporters for delays and restrictions in the military aid it’s been providing, while Macron has been struggling to shake off his early concerns to find an off-ramp that would save Russia’s face.

Since early November, the two countries have been putting on their “best friends” faces. Scholz and Macron met on the side of the climate summit, followed by a round of ministerial meet-ups with both countries talking up their shared interests.

This week, Scholz globalised his zeitenwende rhetoric as “an epochal tectonic shift” in a Foreign Affairs op-ed that defended Germany’s goals (and nodded at the Franco-German friendship). Last weekend, Macron was in the US, urging Biden to pull back from protectionist measures that threatened French and German exports, like the Inflation Reduction Act

Still, the differences remain real. The fissures have already opened up opportunities for others. Watch the ministerial summit, now rescheduled to January to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty on Franco-German reconciliation, to see whether the big two are able to put their interests back together.

The post Fractured friendships threaten Europe’s unity appeared first on Crikey.

More from Crikey

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon