A bimonthly magazine on international affairs, edited in Germany's capital

What Germany Needs to Do Next … On France and the EU


Meet Paris half-way and let it lead, too, lose your self-satisfied tone, and be more creative in developing ideas to bring the whole EU forward.

Cover artwork: © Mitch Blunt

Dear new Chancellor,

Your predecessor – to whom you may well bear a striking resemblance – recently said, “We Europeans have to take our fate in our own hands.” She was quite right. Now that the election is won, it’s time to add the next logical part: “Now.” Yes, the EU has been making quite a comeback of late. But now, it’s mostly up to you to make sure that the European project not only survives but thrives.

Tradition has it that once coalition negotiations have concluded and you and your government have been sworn in, your first foreign engagement will take you to Paris – usually on that very same evening.

But when you touch down at Charles de Gaulle, please make sure you have a detailed reform plan for the EU and the eurozone in your Longchamp handbag – and a number of proposals likely to please your counterpart, President Emmanuel Macron. He will be weathering a substantial dip in his approval ratings as he’s started implementing the changes France urgently needs. For him, Christmas really needs to come early.

However, meeting Macron at least halfway has a wider purpose than simply putting a smile back on the young president’s face. For Europe’s hour to come in earnest, the Franco-German tandem needs to get back in gear – something it can only do when Paris is no longer treated as a junior partner, or used for mere window dressing (as was wont to happen during former president François Hollande’s time in office). The French need to regain their self confidence, and you are up to the job.

Why not look up “Frankreich” in Helmut Kohl’s memoirs? Or even Konrad Adenauer’s? Before the French elections in May, Germany’s finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, not daring to voice his “love” for France, professed “great admiration” (“großen Respekt”), though that sentiment had not been much in evidence for quite some time.

Meeting Macron as freshly-minted chancellor would be a good time to echo such feelings and demonstrate your own conviction that the nation is becoming truly grande again, in an even more grande EU. In other words, under your leadership, Berlin’s attitude is ripe for a change – less Oberlehrer (schoolmarm),  more trusted friend.

Working together with Macron, a reform of the eurozone, an overhaul of European foreign and security policy, and an ambitious EU-wide immigration policy are all key. While this will require loosening the purse-strings, just remember that every euro spent on consolidating the common currency and improving the EU’s infrastructure is a euro well spent. It is also in Germany’s interest to let France take the lead, and not only in security as has traditionally been the case.

That said, don’t forget that the European project is more than just a Franco-German love story. It is essential that you also strengthen the overall cohesion among the remaining 27 EU member states. Germany needs to become everyone’s good friend again – and mean it. To share leadership would help, even if it implies giving up some control yourself.

This will be easier said than done, of course, once the EU progresses at different speeds. Again, striking a new, humbler tone will help, as will more generosity – even where it may not be strictly deserved.

This doesn’t mean that Germany’s role will be solely moderation and mediation. No, Berlin also needs to become a capital of ideas. Germany’s political class, led by your good self, needs to think “European” – and creatively – first and foremost. To strengthen the EU, your government now needs to come up with new projects palatable to all EU member states. Please always be open-minded about initiatives from others for the improvement of the lives of all 510 million EU citizens.

How about that for a legacy?