The pressure is on for Paris and Berlin to deliver beyond less controversial issues like common digital, climate, or border and coastguard policies.
ECFR’s new “EU 28 Survey” of policymakers and experts in all 28 member states casts light on the highly reciprocal relationship between France and Germany at the centre of the European Union. The countries maintain the most important bilateral partnership in the EU, and continue to be the most responsive EU member states. The survey illustrates how member states communicate with Germany and France more frequently than any other European country, regarding them as having greater influence within the Union than any other ally.
These findings may come as no surprise, but the decisive question concerns Paris’ and Berlin’s use of their individual and combined clout now that the EU’s inner tensions seem to have reached an all-time high. The survey reveals much about their potential to pull other member states towards greater cohesion on core EU policies, but also shows the limitations of this crucial bilateral relationship.
On the surface, France and Germany appear to have a strong sense of their shared interests: both French and German respondents to the survey suggested that the common ground between their countries went far beyond that of other EU member states. Europeans generally perceive Paris and Berlin as the greatest advocates of deeper European integration, and France as having greater determination than Germany to lead the way towards “more Europe”. Since ECFR’s last pan-EU coalition survey, taken in 2016, respondents have come to see France as more of a “committed European” than either Belgium and Germany (the frontrunners two years ago). This undoubtedly follows from President Emmanuel Macron’s distinctly pro-European platform, which has driven much of the debate across Europe in recent months. The “Macron effect” also suggests that the policymakers and experts that responded to the survey wish for greater leadership.
ECFR’s 2018 survey then looked more deeply than its forerunner into the relationship between France and Germany. It did so using a new set of questions that pressed respondents in both countries to explore the consensus between Paris and Berlin, as well as their differences.
The EU28 Survey
The EU28 Survey is a bi-annual expert poll conducted by ECFR in the 28 member states of the European Union. The study surveys the cooperation preferences and attitudes of European policy professionals working in governments, politics, think tanks, academia, and the media to provide insights into the potential for coalitions among EU member states. The 2018 edition of the E28 Survey ran from 24 April to 12 June 2018. 548 respondents completed the question discussed in this piece. The full results of the survey were published in October 2018 in the EU Coalition Explorer. This interactive data tool helps to understand the interactions, perceptions and chemistry between the 28 EU member states, and is available at https://www.ecfr.eu/eucoalitionexplorer.The project is part of ECFR’s Rethink: Europe initiative on cohesion and cooperation in the EU, generously funded by Stiftung Mercator.
On fiscal policy and Eurozone governance – an area on which it is vital for France and Germany to agree for any attempt at Eurozone reform to succeed – respondents perceived a great deal of potential for joint Franco-German action in the next two years. At the same time, pluralities of respondents saw this area as one of those most likely to create controversy between their governments, and as one in which the current level of agreement between Paris and Berlin was either medium or low (in almost equal measures). These findings speak to the difficulty the Franco-German engine will have in securing a deal on Eurozone reform. But they also show that each side is highly aware of the other’s position, thereby illustrating the maturity of their bilateral relationship.
In three other core policy areas – migration, refugee, and asylum policy; European defence structures and integration; and EU institutional reform – the picture is less clear. Respondents’ views of these issues diverged to a greater degree than on fiscal policy and Eurozone governance.
Most respondents believed that there was a medium level of consensus between France and Germany on migration, refugee, and asylum policy. In comparison to the French, more Germans perceived there to be a strong consensus in this area. These findings perhaps illustrate some wishful thinking by Germans – who, because the refugee crisis affected them more than the French, are likely to place greater emphasis on a joint approach in this area.
A similar pattern emerges on European defence. An almost equal number of respondents in France and Germany perceived a medium level of consensus on this area. But more German than French respondents perceived a strong consensus, while a similar number of French respondents perceived a low level of consensus, on European defence.
Although these findings might once again reflect Germans’ desire to boost European defence in light of new security challenges in and around Europe, the French are perhaps fundamentally more sceptical about Germany’s commitment to such efforts. Alternatively, French respondents might doubt the EU’s capacity to act as a framework for European defence cooperation.
ECFR’s new survey suggests that France and Germany will find it relatively easy to cooperate on common digital, climate, and border/coastguard policies. In all these areas, both French and German respondents believed that there was significant potential for further European integration in the next two years, as well as relatively little disagreement between Paris and Berlin.
But make no mistake: the pressure is on for Paris and Berlin to deliver beyond relatively uncontroversial issues, thereby demonstrating their joint energy to drive the EU at large. This particularly applies to further Eurozone reform, and to European security. While ECFR’s data suggests that France and Germany share a strong sense of strategic responsibility for keeping the Union afloat, and agree on wanting to jointly lead it, this general sense of purpose will not be enough to see the EU through the coming years. It is time for Paris and Berlin to take a leap of faith.
This article is part of the Rethink: Europe project, an initiative of ECFR, supported by Stiftung Mercator, offering spaces to think through and discuss Europe’s strategic challenges. For more information on the EU28 Survey and the EU Coalition Explorer, the tool presenting the results of the expert survey go to www.ecfr.eu/eucoalitionexplorer.
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.