French and German ministers are set to meet in Paris on 4 February. While it looks like the engine that helps drive Europe is running again, we may get nothing more than handshakes.
On Thursday 4 February Paris will host a Franco-German ministerial meeting involving the entire German cabinet. From the outside it looks like a reappearance of the engine that helps drive Europe along. But while they're likely to come out with a bold declaration on common policy initiatives - energy, climate change, security and so on - behind the scenes the Franco-German engine is unlikely to start running as smoothly as in the past.
The drive and purpose that the Franco-German engine gives the EU has been sorely missed. This is the first such meeting for a long time, and its timing is good: Germany has a new government, and Europe has a new institutional set-up. There is plenty of room to shape a European revival through Franco-German leadership.
Europe badly needs new vigour. The Copenhagen Climate Summit was a watershed moment of European weakness. Yes, Europe's leaders did manage to establish a common position on climate change, but they dramatically failed to defend it and Europe's interests vis-à-vis the world's big players - the US and China. Europe has a lot of work to do on the external front, be it in its relations with Russia, the conflict in Afghanistan, the stress over Iran. Domestically, there is a continuing need for a common plan to get us out of the financial crisis, at a time when the post-Lisbon reshuffle still clouds the issue of who really holds the power in Europe.
A Franco-German declaration and a new common approach will not solve these problems, but it would be an important step towards Europe standing up for itself again.
So will the opportunity be taken? The real question ahead of this Paris meeting is whether France and Germany will take it seriously, or treat it as a mere photo-opportunity like the twin festivities in Berlin and Paris that marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
France and Germany know they ought to work more intensively together, but the problem is that on nearly all the issues that are of strategic importance to the EU - the financial crisis, industrial policies, agriculture, energy security, Russia, the Balkans and Iran - France and Germany simply do not agree. France, for example, wants a tougher stance on Russia and sanctions against Iran, but Germany doesn't. Germany wants a very tough and orthodox regime regarding the debt criteria in the stability pact, whereas France is prepared to go more laissez-faire. France wants nuclear energy, Germany doesn't.
So in Paris do not be fooled by the handshakes. Germany and France do have the opportunity to start working together for real, but might instead just hide behind the rhetoric of partnership. We can hope for the former, but may have to settle for the latter.
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The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.