Every week leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.

 

Camille GrandDirector, Fondation pour la recherche strategique

A Germany reluctant to lead and a France weakened by its economic shortcomings have little choice but to join forces.

Recent Franco-German cooperation is a series of missed opportunities. Diverging economic trends, strategic cultures, and electoral cycles have made it difficult for the two countries to work together.

Can this change following the German election? French President François Hollande cautiously avoided supporting the German Social Democratic Party during the election campaign and promptly praised Chancellor Angela Merkel for her victory. Hollande is discreetly hoping that a grand coalition between Germany’s center-right and center-left will bring French and German views closer together.

It is now time to restart the Franco-German engine. A division of labor under which Berlin leads economically and Paris continues to exercise military leadership might not be sustainable in the long term.

Instead, France and Germany, neither of which will hold national elections before 2017, should develop a common narrative for the EU. International and domestic audiences alike are in search of such a narrative. Leadership is required in all fields of European integration, and a lack of leadership will pave the way for populist Euroskeptic tendencies.

The European Council defense summit in December 2013 could be a first opportunity for cooperation. But do Merkel and Hollande have the will to make the meeting a success? Domestically, it is easier to complain about your neighbor and to muddle through than to take bold initiatives. But, given the state of the EU, that would be counterproductive in the long term.

 

Charles GrantDirector, Center for European Reform

It will be easier for François Hollande and Angela Merkel to work together now that the German election is over.

For months, Germany could not make any decisions on Europe. A new relationship between Berlin and Paris would have to be built on a bargain. Hollande would accept Merkel’s economic reform policies. In return, Germany could go some way toward allowing soft loans for those eurozone countries that make good on the reforms. The two could also reach a compromise on a banking union.

In sum: yes, Europe can expect to see progress between France and Germany.

 

Henrik HeidenkampResearch fellow for the Defense, Industries, and Society Program, Royal United Services Institute

Yes, they can cooperate, but it depends on the policy field.

On the economy, the two leaders have to work together. Angela Merkel gave François Hollande some breathing space in terms of reducing France’s budget deficit. But in the coming months, Merkel will surely expect Hollande to press ahead with reforms. It is crucial for the euro and the eurozone to ensure a strong French economy.

However, Merkel will be extremely diplomatic and careful about how she approaches this—unlike the way she took a tough stance with Greece and other Southern European countries. After all, Hollande will face strong domestic pressure, so Merkel will have to tread carefully. She will not cajole her French counterpart in any obvious way.

On security and defense, it’s a different matter. The two leaders still have a very different understanding about these issues, especially when it comes to operations. Hollande and Merkel are unlikely to work closely in this area bilaterally, but they might do more together in the European Defense Agency, a multilateral EU body that aims to foster defense cooperation.

As regards the future direction of Europe, if the German Social Democratic Party does become Merkel’s coalition partner, that could be good for Europe. And it would help kick-start the Franco-German engine.

 

Daniela SchwarzerHead of the research division on EU integration, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik

Angela Merkel and François Hollande probably have four years ahead of them in which to work together, before the next national elections in both countries in 2017. But there is a deep rift to bridge, in particular on eurozone issues.

The challenge for both leaders is to draw up a joint eurozone governance reform agenda without the pressure of the euro crisis, which has driven reforms since 2010. Hollande and Merkel still need to find answers to persistent risks in public finances and the banking sector as well as social and political tensions, especially in Europe’s South.

The one thing that both France and Germany agree on is that the way forward should be based on intergovernmental cooperation and little or no further pooling of competences. Unless this position changes—and if it does, that is more likely to happen in Berlin than in Paris—Merkel and Hollande will not be the architects of deeper political integration in the euro area.

On most other issues, the two leaders disagree. But, as is traditional in the history of integration, compromise is possible. For example, Hollande wants an unemployment scheme, while Merkel wants to spend money to encourage structural reforms in the South. Taken together, the two ideas would form a useful eurozone budget. But that would require compromise from both sides, especially Germany.