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© cc photo: Olaf Kosinski
The contrasts between Germany and France are increasing. The two are often seen together as the ‘engine of European cooperation’, but interaction has been tricky in recent months, says prominent liberal German Bundestag member Otto Frick in the Reliable Sources podcast.
Even French President Emmanuel Macron warned last Thursday that Germany was threatening to isolate itself in Europe. Frick doesn’t expect the latter, but acknowledges that there are problems around leadership, energy policy and money.
Germany is much bigger economically, but France has an idea of where to drive and where they want to go. This is what happened in recent months. What France means when it asks Germany to drive is always questionable. This word – leadership – still has a negative connotation in Germany. Although in Germany we accept more than before that our country is simply in a leading position.”
France would like to lead Europe with Germany. But, as Frick puts it: “Even if people say it’s for Europe, it’s mainly for gloire de la France. The Netherlands has noticed that with KLM and we’re with Airbus.”
There is also the problem of generations. “The new generation of German politicians, especially since the Bundestag moved to Berlin, is less inclined to French than previous generations. People don’t always understand what France wants. This is a cultural problem. It also has to do with patriotism and nationalism that we distance ourselves from because of our history.”
Otto Frick is the financial spokesperson for the FDP. He knows counselor Olaf Schultz well. Schultz was finance minister in the previous government. Frick: If there is a problem, Macron says: What do I do? While Schulze says: Should I do something? The French feel that what they are doing is right, while the Germans always ask themselves: Is what we are going to do really right? “
The contradiction emerged last week at the European Summit of Government Leaders. France was furious that Schulze traveled the world alone to buy gas quickly. Because wealthy Germany has set aside 200 billion euros for its citizens to make the burden of rapidly rising energy costs less painful. Nor was Germany in favor of a gas price cap plan. Earlier, Macron would have been angry about the joint work of Germany and the Netherlands with the Norwegians and the British in the purchase of new combat aircraft and air defense systems outside France. There is concern about China’s willingness to co-own a container terminal in the port of Hamburg (where Olaf Scholz was mayor of the city). To make matters worse, German ministers canceled the annual meeting of the German and French governments that will take place this week in Fontainebleau, at which point Macron decided not to allow the summit to go ahead.
According to Frick, the support German citizens receive is comparable to that of other EU member states. “We are stopping nuclear power plants and we want to avoid having to start working on lignite again. That is why we are trying to get gas from everywhere. With budget support for citizens. France does not think that this is good for Europe. Because Germany and Holland can buy this expensive gas, but Southern countries don’t have enough money for that. But we had to move quickly. This is also why the Netherlands immediately started building a LNG terminal in Emshavn to be able to buy LNG. You can’t wait for all of Europe to be ready, we want Hurry up. Act first and look at the end: Who is so weak in Europe and how can we help him? Suppose we wait for talks during the World Cup in Qatar – it will certainly be too late.”
When the British were still in the European Union, the conflict between France and Germany was not so great. Under Mario Draghi, Italy played “third place in the game”, but this is not possible with the new right-wing Italian government. Frick sees a role here for the Netherlands, which could counterbalance the Scandinavian countries, for example, Austria, the Czech Republic and Luxembourg. So these countries must have a leader. This is of course Mark Rutte. He is the longest-serving Prime Minister and the only one who can also hold a position of power with his experience. You can often see him in photos at summits with Macron and Schultz. Europe will only work if there is a middle ground at the end in which everyone can say: we got something out of it. This is only possible if someone says: Could this not be a solution? Rota is definitely in a strong position there. And in the end, politics is often too: a text message here, a short chat there, and if we go a little more this way or a little faster there, is that a solution? “