Christoph Bertram, Yves Boyer, François Heisbourg, Joachim Schild

Starting over

For a Franco-German Initiative in European Defence

SWP Research Paper 2002/S 37a, November 2002, 40 Pages


France, Germany

This paper is the collaborative effort of a small group of Germans and Frenchmen concerned about the fact that Franco-German co-operation, once the centerpiece of European integration, seems to have fallen into disrepair. This concern is not the product of nostalgia for the past when France and Germany both attached major importance to close and fruitful ties, nor is this study dictated by the desire to find something, come what may, to revive that state of affairs. Rather it follows from our conviction that in many areas, Franco-German policy co-ordination is in the national interest of both countries as a result of the changed international environment in which they find themselves both individually and as part of the European Union.

Hence the focus of the analysis and recommendations that follows is on the Union's defence policy and the contribution both states can make towards it by working close together. There will be no EU foreign and defence policy unless France and Germany take an active part in shaping it. And their ability to do so depends largely on their willingness to do so together. In many, if not most instances, the examples they set in their bilateral co-operation can serve to promote wider co-operation within the Union and thus serve Europe's international inßuence. But even if others do no follow the examples, effective co-operation in these fields will increase the inßuence of both. Their national interest will be advanced in either case.

It is, of course, never easy to breathe new life into a fading relationship. Both France and Germany have lost much of their initial inclination to give priority to working together and are using repeated disappointments to justify this trend. Each has signalled that there might be other, more accommodating partners or professed a preference for shifting coalitions within the decision-making bodies of the European Union. But these attitudes reßect political fashion rather than a careful analysis of national interests; above all, they indicate how the deep differences between France and Germany on the Common Agricultural Policy have affected the overall bilateral relationship.

Yet the fact remains that in the emerging European Union of soon 25 members, a privileged relationship to another major power offers the best chance for gaining majorities. And while for both France and Germany other major members of the Union may at times and in specific cases seem the more obvious partner, there is for neither an alternative to the other across the board. At the very least, shifting coalitions will always be more difficult to form and sustain for either without the basis of a privileged partnership between France and Germany. Recognition of that basic fact should make the inevitable strains of a sustained partnership more bearable.

This also applies to the field of defence policy. At first glance, this may seem surprising. After all, Germany has traditionally been more Atlanticist than Gaullist-minded France, fully integrated into Nato's military organisation and frequently complaining about the strains of balancing its defence ties between France and the US. On most issues of foreign policy, France has rarely been reluctant to display a strong sense of independence while Germany has preferred to stay in line with the United States. Yet, as we will argue in this paper, those differences were relevant in the past but are no longer so today. This is the result both of the process of European integration which gives a premium to joint action, as well as that of the changed strategic environment to which both countries need to adjust. To pretend otherwise, however tempting for foreign policy and defence estabishments loath to adjust, is to cling to outdated habits.

This paper will discuss the need to change and the opportunities that close Franco-German co-operation in foreign and defence matters offers to both and to Europe in three parts. The first will analyse the main trends of the strategic environment. The second chapter will look at the record of Franco-German co-operation, and will describe the present state of affairs. The final chapter will discuss the institutional and political requirements for a closer relationship and suggest specific areas in which this could be particularly rewarding.

As the fortieth anniversary of the Elysée Treaty approaches, France and Germany have ample reason to try a new start; they may discover that few areas can be as fruitful for their co-operation as that of defence. At any rate, we hope that our analysis and proposals will be received in both countries with an open mind and our suggestions with a willingness at least to give them a try.

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