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November 14, 2019

Are France and Germany finally converging on security policy? We think they might.

One of the potentially most important developments in the EU right now is a convergence of views between France and Germany on security policy. There is now, for the first time since we can remember, a serious debate going on in Germany about strategic security interests. 

As a qualifier we need to point out that we are at the beginning of the beginning, and this only if we are lucky. If Germany ever steps up to a European leadership role in foreign policy and security, it will not happen in a straight line. Regress may precede progress. And, as we keep pointing out, it should extend to non-military forms of security policies - like the use of the euro or trade policies as instruments of foreign and security policy.

The single most important event has been the recent speech by Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer on the future of defence. As CDU leader and German defence minister, she set out a massive political shift for the next decade. There is no guarantee that she will be able to implement any of this. She may not be the next chancellor. Her popularity ratings are among the worst of all German politicians. But it matters that the leader of Germany's largest party proposes a policy shift comparable to the SPD's Bad Godesberg programme in the 1950s, or to Helmut Kohl's support for monetary union. This is bigger than anything Angela Merkel did during her 14 years in office. 

Ulrike Franke, a German military expert, discovered that Emmanuel Macron said essentially the same thing during his much-publicised interview with the Economist. What is different is how they phrase things. A German would never use the word brain-dead in connection with Nato. 

But these soundbites obscure that the two agree on the most important issue: that the combination of security threats from China and Russia means that the Europeans will have to shoulder a greater burden for their own defence. They also share a similar interpretation of what is happening in the US: that the US will not continue to provide full-insurance security for Europe. 

There are differences between the two. But they are relatively subtle. Macron worries of Europe's geopolitical power, while the Germans are more interested in safeguarding prosperity. And AKK emphasises one of the goals of the European Defence Union is supporting Nato, while Macron wants it to become more self-sufficient. Franke concludes that AKK announced two big shifts. The first is an explicit recognition that Germany has strategic interests. And the second is that Germany cannot continue to free-ride on security as it has done in the past. We agree with her observation:

"To anyone but a German, this sounds banal. But, to German ears, it is almost heresy."

The obstacles to further integration are massive. This became clear on Tuesday at a meeting of EU defence ministers, who used the opportunity to take stock of the EU's joint defence projects. The number has shot up from an initial 13 to 47 but, as FAZ writes, they look better on paper than they do in practice. And many of them are simply not viable. 

And finally, we were reminded of the difficulties ahead when we heard Donald Tusk's last big speech as president of the European Council. He took a parting shot at Macron over his refusal to open accession talks with northern Macedonia and Albania. That specific debate encapsulates the difference between new and old thinking in the EU. Tusk remains committed to the enlargement-first strategy the EU has been running for the last 20 years. Macron is breaking with this, and wants the EU to refocus on fixing itself and becoming stronger to be able to defend its own strategic interests. We think that AKK is closer to Macron than to Tusk on this point, whereas Merkel and Tusk are in the same camp. After his departure from the European Council Tusk is most likely to become the leader of the EPP, but this is not a power centre in European politics. It is a job that will involve a lot of handshaking.

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