A Franco-German dispute threatens to unbalance the EU

A German official raises “logistical problems” and disagreements over the content of a Franco-German declaration.

When France and Germany do not agree, the whole EU has a problem.

That is what is happening now, with Berlin and Paris having to postpone a long-awaited bilateral summit due to an embarrassing disagreement over key policy areas such as defense and energy. As war rages in Ukraine, the timing couldn’t be worse.

Just a day before a crucial European Council summit to be held in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, where European leaders are expected to clash over how to respond to soaring energy prices, Germany and France announced that their annual Franco-German ministerial council , which was to be held next Wednesday in Fontainebleau, south of Paris, would be postponed until January.

Officially, the two sides claim that “difficulties related to the agenda of certain ministers” are behind the surprise postponement of their bilateral cabinet meeting, the first occurrence of this type of high-level format since Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government took office last year.

At least five of Mr Scholz’s ministers, including Foreign Affairs Minister Annalena Baerbock, had complained internally that next Wednesday would have fallen in a rare week in which they could have holidayed with their children, as they will be on school holidays. However, this reasoning does not seem convincing when the war rages on the continent. The real reason for the postponement is significant disagreements on energy and defense issues, which made it difficult for the two sides to agree on a joint statement they had planned to sign.

“In some files we are not yet ready to be on the same line. Therefore, knowing this, we said it would be best to [le conseil ministériel]in January, where we are also present with all the important ministers,” said a German official, adding that “we are in the process of finding a [nouvelle]date.”

Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron could still have a one-on-one in Paris next Wednesday, the German official added. The two leaders will also meet in Brussels on Thursday, ahead of a summit of European leaders.

Officials on both sides said talks between Paris and Berlin had been particularly difficult on energy issues – such as whether to build the Midcat pipeline project from the Iberian Peninsula to northern Europe. Germany sees the project as a crucial alternative route to bring North African gas to Europe now that Russia is no longer a reliable supplier.

The two countries are also at odds over France’s request to impose price caps on gas and electricity and on defense issues such as the joint development of FCAS (Future Combat Air System) fighter jets. ).

Germany’s unilateral approach of injecting up to 200 billion euros into the German economy to cushion the impact of soaring energy prices has also drawn ire from France, which believes Berlin should have consulted its allies on such massive payments, which could distort the inner market.

An Élysée official confirmed that defense and energy were two areas where progress was needed and that Mr Macron and Mr Scholz would set the date for their next bilateral meeting when they meet in Brussels on Thursday.

Joint meetings between Franco-German governments have taken place since 2003 at least once a year, but were canceled in 2020 and held only by video conference in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Expectations for this year’s meeting had been particularly high as it would be the first face-to-face meeting between the two governments in three years. Both sides had also expressed great interest in strengthening cooperation, especially in the area of ​​defence, where Europe’s lack of autonomy has been exposed by the war in Ukraine.

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