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November 26, 2019

Disrupting and glueing: on Anglo-Saxon clichés about France and Germany

No doubt, the Franco German relationship is goes through a period of troubles. In all good relationships there are times in which both partners have to find a new way forward. This is one of them. But it is not a breakdown of the relationship as some observers suggest. 

The reports by Steven Erlanger in the New York Times about the clash between Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron made headlines and were officially denied on both sides. What seems to be the issue? At a dinner to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall Merkel reportedly said to Macron:

"I understand your desire for disruptive politics... But I’m tired of picking up the pieces. Over and over, I have to glue together the cups you have broken so that we can then sit down and have a cup of tea together."

Merkel's spokesperson Steffen Seiffert yesterday did not deny the porcelain anecdote, but he did deny the implied suggestion that this was a sharp exchange between the chancellor and the president. The Élysée palace also denied that there was a heavy exchange. This private conversation was at all times open and friendly, sources who attended the dinner told the FAZ.

To us the tone used in this porcelain anecdote does not sound like Merkel. If anything it seem to reflect more the view of the person who leaked the story to the New York Times. But this piece of fake news is spreading, and it reinforcies the image of German stoicism in contrast to French disruption.

No doubt there are real divergences in substance and style. But no, the French do not want to abolish Nato as some interpreted Macron when he called Nato brain-dead in his interview with the Economist. His provocation was meant to start a conversation with the Germans about Nato and the Europeans' role in it. Paris insists that Nato itself is not the problem. France want to end Nato's speechlessness. The question is how. Much to France's irritation, at Nato committees Germany hardly criticised the US retreat from Northern Syria or Turkey's military operation there. High expectations are now on a meeting in London with Recep Erdogan on the sidelines of the Nato summit. 

The French veto to starting accession talks with Northern Macedonia and Albania put Germany on the spot, too. Paris hopes to get an overhaul of the EU accession process agreed before the next Balkan summit in the spring. The veto was an opening bid that disrupted the status quo. The Germans were massively triggered by this solo act. To the question of why Paris is irritating its EU partners, a French diplomat said: because we are France. This take is hardly endearing the French to the German audience.

We have no doubt that a compromise will eventually emerge. But we are less hopeful that this will happen without someone claiming victory and blaming the other.

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