The Franco-German axis of the EU and Russia
Doctor of Science (Philosophy), Professor
Department of International and national security
Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of the Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation
Doctor of Geopolitics, President of the international association « Eurocontinent », (Brussels, Belgium) specialising in the study of geopolitical aspects of the Euro-Atlantic, Euro-Asian and Euro-Mediterranean spaces and regional security.
The Franco-German axis of the EU and Russia
Abstracts: The key research question of the article is to identify the opportunities for the new France – German leadership to optimize the EU’s relations with Russia. The main parameters of the EU crisis are considered; the system error of the architects of the European project is indicated. According to the authors, it consists in the lack of appropriate attention to the choice of ways to combine too different political cultures of the countries that are members of the EU. The pluses and minuses of the further expansion of the EU are argued. The characteristics of the approaches of Germany and France regarding the building relations with Russia are given, similarities and differences of these approaches are revealed. The geopolitical strategies and national interests of France and Germany in the EU, directly influencing the configuration of the possibilities for resuming a constructive dialogue with Russia, have been clarified. It is concluded that a certain positive reconstruction of the European Union under the updated Franco-German tandem is possible, but there will be no systemic changes in the relations between the EU and Russia in the medium term. The obtained data are illustrated by graphic applications to the text.
Keywords: France, Germany, Russia. EU, the crisis of the EU, normativism, geopolitics
Today the European Union is not ready to see Russia as an equal partner. From the point of view of the EU, Russia must be westernised, which means its political culture has to be transformed according to EU’s normative vision of politics as « the highest moral power ». The process of « westernisation » of Russia, which started in the early 1990’s, was stopped after Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000. Further events – the Georgian-Ossetian conflict of 2008 and the reunification of Crimea with Russia in 2014, have consistently worsened relations between the EU and Russia.
However, the position of « mentor » and « teacher », adopted by the EU, is perceived by Russians as an unacceptable form of « moral imperialism ». Russian representation of politics is in complete contradiction with the ambitions of the European Union to transform the world according to neo-liberalistic ideas. The Russian government positions its country as an autonomous Eurasian power pole in a multi-centred world, possessing a special geopolitical orientation – both European and Asian. Speaking at the « Territory of Meanings » forum in August 2017, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said that « we are definitely witnessing a turning point in international relations now. The period which is characterised by the domination of what we call the West in international affairs is becoming the past, while a so-called polycentric model of the world order is being formed ». In this situation, the idea of absence of alternative in the cooperation between the EU and Russia is not imperative. Russia suggests introducing a new paradigm of relations with Europe – the paradigm of rational partnership. It implies the prevalence of the logic of rationality, or more precisely, the logic of rational containment in EU-Russia interaction, rather than the logic of confrontation or the logic of seeking cooperation at all cost. In the formation of this paradigm, on EU’s side, the Franco-German duet, should in our opinion, play a key role because Franco-German relations are the « engine » of the European project.
The crisis in the Ukraine led to an aggravation of relations between France and Germany on the one hand and Russia on the other. Germany (along with the US) took the lead in negotiations with Russia, arguing that Russia has become an actor of world politics and international relations, whose behaviour replicates the worst traditions of the distant past. This position mainly developed under the influence of ideological, « normative » principles, and to a much lesser extent geopolitical compromises, which France is ready to discuss. The latter adheres to a classical view of international relations, and rather thinks in terms of geopolitics and of the balance of power doctrine.
If both countries do not mobilise their political will and lead constructive negotiations with Russia, the further development of the EU, which is facing a profound existential internal crisis, will remain in question. Meanwhile, EU’s way out of a trajectory of slow decline is not only in its own interest, but also in that of Russia.
The key research question. Is the renewed Franco-German axis of the EU capable of optimising EU’s relations with Russia and to what extent?
The EU crisis
A report by the Chatham House experts, published in June 2017, identifies six main challenges to the existence of the EU today: the consequences of the eurozone crisis; the migration crisis; the Brexit; the rise of populist Eurosceptic parties; the anti-liberal drift of the states of Central and Eastern Europe; and a crisis of legitimacy. In our opinion, these challenges are the result of the main mistake made by the architects of the integration process in Europe – overly optimistic assessments of the unifying potential of Europe, which today has practically been exhausted in both dimensions, horizontal and vertical. The essence of this error can be formulated in short as – excess of variety generates chimeras. The combination of the incompatible and the authoritarian assertion of too intellectualised, complexly interconnected constructs, eventually led to those constructs being presented as reality, which they have little to do with. The idea of a complete merger of different countries – from an economic and monetary union to a financial, as well as fiscal one and, finally, to a political one, turned out to be unrealistic. The European Union, as one of the most beautiful in its design and a potentially optimal model of human coexistence, uniting many cultures, has gained a critical mass of intractable cultural barriers and differences, threatening to « overturn » this project and lead it nowhere.
A report by the Chatham House experts cites interesting figures confirming this idea. The research data was collected during a survey conducted among respondents from two focus groups: representatives of political elites of the EU and ordinary citizens, among whom were groups of people of senior and middle age, with high and low incomes. They were asked three key questions: the EU should get more power (results, respectively, 37% for vs. 24% against it); power must be returned to member states (31% – 48%); the status quo should be maintained (28% – 28%). If such trends persist and gain momentum, it will be extremely difficult to stop the centrifugal processes in the EU.
In a horizontal dimension, the key difficulties of EU’s integrative potential lie in the economic space: too different levels of economic development among EU member countries, cultural obstacles that hamper the flow of labour force, lack of fiscal unity. The expansion of the eurozone looks more and more hopeless. Right now it includes nineteen members; not part of the eurozone are Bulgaria, Hungary, Denmark, Poland, Romania, Croatia, the Czech Republic and Sweden. Formally, it can expand through new EU members, who already (by agreement or independently) use the euro.
According to the Maastricht Treaty, all EU members eligible under the Maastricht criteria are also required to join the eurozone, after having previously spent two years in the framework of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM II). Only Great Britain and Denmark are exempt from this by a special agreement. But if the EU itself still retains a remainder of attractiveness for a number of European countries, only a few, often significantly inferior in economic development compared to EU countries, are willing to join the eurozone, which is experiencing a severe crisis. In addition, few members of the EU fulfil the Maastricht criteria; they even ignore the officially set obligations to introduce a single currency. An exception are the Baltic States, whose governments view the eurozone as a mean to maximise the distance to the Russian Federation, paying little attention to the prospects of their own economy and even to the opinion of their population.
Population support for introduction of the euro is also quite high in Romania. But in addition to not being part of ERM II, it also violates two Maastricht criteria (national currency inflation of about 4%). Hungary is in a similar situation – among established requirements, only the budget deficit (1.9% of GDP) is met, in addition to this, euroscepticism of the current Hungarian government is very strong. One can say with certainty, that after the crisis of 2008 the attractiveness of the eurozone, along with that of the European Union, experienced a sharp fall in the eyes of its potential members. It is all the more surprising to hear J.-Claude Juncker’s proposals, during the annual speech on the state of the European Union at the meeting of the European Parliament in Strasbourg on September 13th this year, where he put forward that the euro should be made an effective currency throughout the European Union. « The Junker’s proposal is purely political, not economic. There is a risk that some countries will take the euro under pressure, but they will not cope with too harsh criteria. And the EU will not only keep Greece hanging on its neck, which actually is bankrupt and supports its life artificially, but also other countries, inexperienced in financial matters, such as Romania and Bulgaria. They can only intensify the crisis [inside the EU]. » 
In the political sphere, an acute challenge to unity is the uncertainty of the powers of integration structures; insufficient legitimacy of EU decisions in the eyes of Europeans; inadequate representation of member countries in EU institutions. Among the eight official members to join the European Union, the vast majority are the Balkan states, which are strongly lagging behind the developed countries of Western Europe. Their integration into a united Europe will only create additional problems for it. To the sole candidate who reaches the European standard of living – Iceland – the EU was only of interest as an economic partner in difficult times. However, in 2015, Iceland officially withdrew the application for the entry into the European Union, filed in 2009. For the first time in half a century, the largest candidate – Turkey – does not wish to integrate into the EU, neither at government level nor at the level of ordinary citizens of the country.
« Equally, if not more dangerous, is what experts identify as « the crisis of normative leadership of Europe ». For most of its history, the European Union remained the vehicle for the most advanced rules and norms of civilised communication. But now Europe can not boast of the ability to apply the stated principles in its own policy. » Continuous growth in immigration and the problem of terrorism deepen the political split. Nevertheless, EU’s political class continues to defend liberal norms and values. The liberal world « order is still the best of all possible worlds for ethical, for political, and for economic reasons. And we want this order to keep moving forward, or at least not see it weakened. » says German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, on behalf of his country (as well as on behalf of the EU).
In search of ways for closer political integration the EU establishment staked on the idea of federalisation of the European Union. Meanwhile, the process of federalisation of the EU is constantly confronted with some of its member state’s (often irrational) fear to lose their national sovereignty. The most federalist project – the single European currency – suffered an obvious defeat, which only fuels the nationalist and eurosceptic sentiments of a number of EU member states. In the UK, they led to the withdrawal from the EU.
Any, even symbolic initiatives, which transfer part of the sovereignty to a supranational level, become the subject of a fierce fight between « nationalists and federalists », which, as a rule, until recently ended with a defeat of the latter. However, in February 2017, the Italian newspaper La Stampa published information about the fact that the Presidents of the Lower Chambers of the Parliaments of France, Germany, Luxembourg and Italy finally called for the creation of the European Federal Union of States. « We must have the courage to share sovereignty in many sectors in which the action of individual States is now totally ineffective and doomed to fail: from global warming to energy policies, from financial markets to the rules for immigration, tax evasion to the fight against terrorism. Now is the moment to move towards closer political integration: Federal Union of States with large skills. We know that the prospect stirs up strong resistance, but the inaction of some can not be the paralysis of all. Those who believe in the European ideal, have to be able to revive its slow decline. » In our view, when the survival of the EU is at stake, its members become more introverted than is admissible. The appeal to the dilemma of « either or » or « no third is given » – where people can either live in a liberal world, or in none at all, without an average or in between – is only true from the point of view of the laws of formal logic. From the point of view of real politics, this means denying the differences. Facts and interpretations merge into one and as a conclusion; theory and reality are in a relation of isomorphism.
A further possibility of vertical integration of the EU is not its federalisation, but the regionalisation carried out in accordance with the principle of subsidiary, as one of the pillars of democracy.
Today, this very principle considerably hinders the federalisation of the EU. According to the Lisbon Treaty (« Protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality »), the EU Court is obliged to monitor compliance with the principle, which opens the way for a creation (even if so far only theoretical) of Euroregions, with an emphasis on areas united by common ethno-cultural values. This will allow to take into account the diversity factor and to optimise the EU as a model for the integration of different cultures (political, economic, social, etc.). The main difficulty, EU’s political mentality has to overcome is changing the structure of power relations. This will decide whether a united Europe will achieve the status of a real rather than imaginary unity. However, even theoretically, the concept of regionalisation is still regarded as irrelevant by Brussels, because it would lead to the slow disintegration of the European Union in its actual form.
EU and Russia: two views on the world and each other
The deterioration of relations between the EU and Russia cannot be considered only as a matter of external relations of the EU, but rather as a central issue regarding the future of the entire European project. A failure or even rejection of these relations is an opportunity to rethink the European project, to implement its « strategic autonomy », as proposed in the new EU Global Strategy.
After the Brexit, the EU should rather focus on « Realpolitik » principles, as it will be less and less in the position to impose and implement its normative paradigm and the « theory of interdependence ».
Under these new conditions, the EU should be adapted to the changing geopolitical situation, and be understood as a project of reliable European architecture and security environment rather than that of a political unity. This idea has become central to EU Global Strategy of 2016. Objectively, to work towards this, EU and Russia have to identify and clarify the general geopolitical interests of the dialogue. The main possible topics are – the strengthening of the continental axis of Europe, the missing links in European security, and shared neighbourhood. These topics can be addressed at a global, pan-European, regional and even local levels. Instead, however, according to the new EU Global Strategy, « the management of relations with Russia presents a key strategic challenge to the European Union ». The idea of a « new normal » deprives Russia of the role of « partner in building a new European security architecture ».
In search of an answer to this challenge, in March 2016 the EU adopted five principles for building relations with Russia: the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements; strengthening of the Eastern Partnership; ensuring the EU energy security; sectoral partnership on issues of interest primarily to the EU; support of civil society of the Russian Federation. The key principle is the fourth – selective partnership – which has replaced the principle of strategic partnership between the EU and Russia. Interaction is possible only where it is in the interests of the EU alone.
Russia’s response, were the six principles of its further relations with the EU, formulated in a report of the Valdai Club, entitled « Russia and the European Union: Three questions about the new principles of relationship ». These principles are – openness to all partners; inclusiveness of relations; subsidiarity; proportionality of actions and levels of dialogue; diversification of foreign and external economic relations; overturn by the EU of its visa ban against all Crimean residents. In this case, the key principle is the third – subsidiarity – , which reproduces the organisation of the internal structure of the EU itself. Of course Russia gives an almost mirror response, by taking into account its own national interests before all else. « The most important factor determining Russian behaviour is that the country decreasingly sees itself as the periphery of Europe, and increasingly – as an independent Eurasian power centre. »
Possessing such resource potentials as hydrocarbons; its territory size, which allows to optimise logistics and infrastructure not only within the country, but also to make it the world’s largest transport hub; a defence industry with a strong development of high technologies, that are relatively easily converted into the creation and production of a variety of latest electronic devices; human capital, the development of which the state has made its main stake today. In the foreseeable 10-15 years, Russia could become a major industrial power, less interested in the EU than vice versa.
This is perhaps the reason, why in June 2017, the foreign policy department of the EU, formulated the next five areas on which it wants to cooperate with Moscow: the joint resolution of the civil conflict in the East of the Ukraine; a solution of the issue concerning relations between the European Union and the post-Soviet republics; opposition to Russian propaganda used by Moscow as an information weapon; cooperation with Russia in the field of security in the Middle East and North Korea; cooperation in the cultural sphere; monitoring the observance of human rights. If Russia accepts these proposals, the EU is ready to offer it a visa-free regime, as it is the case with Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia. These proposals are obviously unacceptable for Russia.
However, Russia’s, as well as EU’s task is to find a way to bridge the gap between theory and practice: in order for the project to be successful, it is necessary to find a point of convergence between the value system of the executor (state), and the value system of the requester (people, society). The task is securitised both for Russia and for the EU. The Russian Federation wants the « EU to be a united and strong player capable of choosing its foreign policy priorities based on a real balance of its members’ interests, independently and without external prompting. » The EU, for its part, stresses that « in many areas we consider it necessary to conduct an active dialogue, continuously cooperate ». However the relation principles imposed by both sides are unlikely to allow them to solve the task as effectively as possible, and without appealing to the paradigm of mutual containment.
Expansion of the EU and its geopolitics
Another major problem in the relations between the EU and Russia is the EU member states’ different geopolitical vision regarding their position in the world. This makes the EU an even more unpredictable partner for Russia.
EU’s geopolitical strategy and its vision of itself in the world must derive from its geographic characteristics and be clearly identifiable with other geopolitical centres. In order to transform into a serious political player in a rapidly changing world, the European project must develop a geopolitical strategy based on its territorial interests. This means: a clear definition of boundaries, geographical priorities, the meaning and content of alliances, the promotion of its civilisational characteristics. The transformation of the EU as a « union of nations » into a more autonomous geopolitical actor implies its inclusion into the system of the global balance of power.
The EU has to maintain a geopolitical balance between the Euro-Atlantic, Euro-Asian, Euro-Mediterranean, African and Euro-Arctic geopolitical spaces. This means that the European Union must find a stable point of equilibrium between the USA and Russia. Likewise, Russia also has to balance its relations in accordance with its diverse geography – between Eurasian-European and Atlantic, Eurasian-Arctic, Eurasian-East Asian and Eurasian-Mediterranean and African spaces.
Today, out of forty-three states, which have most of their territory located in Europe, twenty-seven (including Cyprus, entirely situated in Asia) are part of the EU. Only sixteen states remain unreached by integration processes within the EU. If we also take into account those that have a smaller part of their territory located in Europe, then the list grows to twenty-one countries. Such a perspective blurs EU identity in the eyes of external actors of world politics. The condition for its strengthening is the consolidation of EU borders. This will also allow the EU to more clearly define its foreign policy interests, preserve its cohesion and rid itself of the effect of « enlargement fatigue », which has become a reality among European citizens. They cannot identify themselves with the EU as long as its borders are unclear, porous and huge flows of people from other countries and continents easily penetrate through them. In support of this, Chatham House experts cite the following survey results (the focus groups are the same as in the survey on attitudes toward EU integration cited at the beginning of this article):
- 47% members of the public said that the enlargement « has gone too far » and 22% disagree. Among representatives of the elite, 44% are against and 41% are for further enlargement.
- 58% of the elite still support new countries seeking to join the EU. The public is divided, 34% are for, 36% are against and 31% are undecided.
- 62% of the public are against Turkey’s accession to the EU, the largest candidate country. Among elite representatives, 49% are opposed and 42% are in support of Turkey’s accession as long as it implements the necessary reforms. Another problem of EU enlargement is that for many countries membership in the European Union has always played the role of a kind of « entrance hall » on the way to the North Atlantic Alliance. In a number of cases, it was also the other way round: according to the European Commission, Montenegro, for example, has today the best chances for joining the EU – its political institutions are fully in line with European standards. In addition, this country is unofficially part of the eurozone, using the European single currency for internal circulation, but without the right to issue it. Montenegro has recently become a member of NATO. It will be much easier for Montenegro to integrate into the EU than for the rest of the Balkan countries.
The consequent expansion of the EU, followed by NATO led to the Russians’ perception of the Alliance as a continuous threat, remaining since the days of the Cold War. Russia views every EU move as a step leading to further NATO expansion, this includes the Eastern Partnership program and the Sikorski doctrine (NATO’s proportionate response to any attempts with the help of hard or soft power to change EU borders). The Russian government opposes the deployment of NATO forces at the borders of its country, especially in territories formerly owned by the USSR.
The situation has become particularly difficult since the EU has expanded to Central and Eastern Europe. Russia’s near abroad simultaneously became that of the European Union. However, EU member states underestimated the geopolitical consequences of this state of affairs. Today, the desire of enlargement of the European Union compels it to determine the geopolitical fault lines that arise from historical borders, not of the European but of the Eurasian continent, of which Russia is the strong power centre. Refusal to further expand the EU and the Atlantic Alliance to Russia’s « near abroad » is a way to increase regional stability and improve relations with Russia.
As for the migration crisis, Russia’s assistance is crucial for the EU in order to stabilise ongoing conflicts and stop migration flows. Countries aimed at protecting European civilisation need an alliance with Russia, in order to rehabilitate the concept of border, territorial control and sovereignty. This must be done in order to contain a future conflict of civilisations on European territory.
The Franco-German geopolitical axis of the EU
The internal geopolitical balance of the EU plays an extremely important role in the survival of the European Union. In the enlarged EU, the various geopolitical priorities of the states and their perception of security make it difficult to define the interests of the EU as a whole and, consequently, the predictability of its policies.
First and foremost, the task is to overcome the new (after the reunification of Germany) geopolitical rivalry between France and Germany that arose after the EU expanded to the East. This rivalry stems from the goal of both countries to position themselves in the geopolitical centre of the European Union as the guarantor who, surrounded by allies, ensures security and power. The tracking of competition dynamics between France and Germany (and between the North-East and South-West EU) is a central factor for the geopolitical orientation of the EU. It allows to understand the reasons for the transformation of EU’s neighbourhood policy, divided between the Eastern Partnership and the Union of the Mediterranean.
Germany’s priority has always been EU expansion in Central and Eastern Europe. The geopolitical interests of Germany, dictated by its central geographical position in Europe, determined the need for a stabilisation of its eastern flank with an emphasis on the Eastern Partnership countries, which is also a priority for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) – members of the EU. In 2007, the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP +), Russia and Central Asia were identified as priorities for Germany’s EU Presidency. Germany’s goal is the westernisation of the CEE, by spreading Western liberal norms of political and social life. This is necessary to create a buffer zone between Russia and the EU and, ultimately, in the long term, westernise Russia as well, provoking a domino effect in all of Eurasia. Germany’s goal is to maintain its leadership in the EU, to strengthen its eastern flank, in order to avoid the multipolarisation of the EU with regard to the « Russian challenge ».
The French perception of the shift of the geopolitical centre of gravity to the east in favour of Germany led to compensatory measures taken by France with regard to the enlargement and priorities of the neighbourhood. In 2008, the Government of France proposed the Union for the Mediterranean project (UfM) in order to reorient the EU to the South. France’s geopolitical priorities are more focused on the southern arc of the EU, located along the Mediterranean Sea. When the Arab revolutions broke out in 2010, France proposed to resume discussion on the strengthening of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM).
After the Islamist terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015, the French government called for the practical implementation of the EU solidarity clause (article 42.7 of the Lisbon Treaty) for the first time. This initiative was supported by the German government only in principle – France’s intention to open military operations in the Mediterranean-Middle East region was not supported. The then French President Francois Hollande proposed creating a large coalition, including Russia, to fight the Islamic state in Syria and Iraq.
This Franco-Russian alliance did not materialise because the French and Russian governments had different ideas on the future regime of Bashar al-Assad. As a result of the disagreement, France is today an active member of the American coalition in Syria, to which Germany contributes only with military training of combatants and the supply of weapons. Russia is part of another coalition – with the official government of Syria, Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah. It is obvious, that the goals of these two coalitions find themselves on very uncertain political territory – between convergence and rivalry.
In order to study the differences and similarities in the way the two countries perceive the problem of ensuring regional security in Europe, it is important to compare the German (2006 and 2016) and French (2008, 2013 and 2017 strategic review) White Books on security policy and defence. The similarity is that at global level, France and Germany, as well as other EU member states, are concerned about the transfer of the global geopolitical centre of gravity from the « West » to Asia. In addition, Germany and France agree with each other in setting some priorities: negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program, the resolution of the Ukraine crisis, and a policy towards Russia, in which the country is seen as a threat.
The difference is that Germany is more concerned with the problem of destabilisation of the security architecture on the Eurasian continent and the Balkans, while France is focused on resolving crises in North Africa and the Middle East. At the same time France wants to use the EU as a tool to ensure political equilibrium with Germany and thereby avoid the geopolitical imbalance of the European Union. Therefore, in the Franco-German dialogue, all EU countries become voluntary but compulsory participants, in any case.
Franco-German relations as a balance maintaining factor of the EU after Brexi
In the French Gaullist foreign policy doctrine, Russia is a factor in maintaining equilibrium in Europe, a role likely to strengthen after the Brexit. The latter can be considered an event as important as the fall of the Berlin Wall, but this time an incident of this scale is more likely to lead to the regression of the EU. Although, under certain circumstances Brexit could be used as an opportunity to reform the European project and bring it closer to citizens, this is less realistic. Brexit will objectively have irreversible consequences, on shifting the balance of power in the EU.
Above all, this is a problem for France, which has in some kind always used the United Kingdom as a counterweight to Germany. The Brexit will strengthen Germany’s central role in the EU, and France will have to consider other options to prevent the emergence of a « German EU ».
This will strengthen the position of French Gaullist politicians who believe that improving relations with Russia is a necessity in order to restore Europe’s geopolitical balance. The geopolitical situation that has developed after Brexit could open new opportunities for France and Russia to renew and improve their relations. Therefore, Brexit can be considered as a possibility for continental EU member states to promote implementation of the idea of « Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok », in the long term.
However, there is also a more dangerous possible scenario. As a result of the Brexit, Britain can no longer be US’s closest ally in the EU. A possible option would then be for the NATO to strengthen in order to unite Europeans around an exclusively « Euro-Atlantic » vision of the world order where Russia would become the key enemy. This should be avoided by all means, because it would further divide Europe into supporters of the EU and supporters of normalising relations with Russia. Improvement of Franco-German-Russian relations can prevent this scenario from becoming a reality.
Prospects of the Franco-German-Russian Triangle
The search for a geopolitical balance in the EU complicates Germany’s and France’s differing interests in building stable relations with Russia.
As a result of the Ukraine crisis, all EU states imposed sanctions on Russia; however the most « noticeable » country in supporting them was Germany. This brings us back to the normative doctrine, guiding the European Union. The vitality of this doctrine basically depends on the German approach to understanding EU unity. Germany does not support the French model of European unity as a common military power and insists on the exclusivity of legal aspects of international relations.
After the reunification of Crimea with Russia, Germany interprets the crisis in relations with Russia as the outcome of a violation of international law by the latter, whereas France has a more geopolitical point of view. These different approaches make it more difficult to achieve a Franco-German-Russian compromise necessary to overcome the relations.
In addition, an obstacle to establishing a climate of confidence is the « EU / NATO complementarity » narrative, stubbornly supported by Germany and to a much lesser extent by France. From the point of view of hard security, the Franco-German-Russian triangle depends on the balance of power within the framework of the American-French-German-Russian tetrahedron. The geopolitical balance both within the EU and NATO is a separate factor of complexity. American pressure within NATO, along with the most Atlanticist member countries of the EU and NATO from Central and Eastern Europe, prevents France from establishing a direct dialogue with Russia and signing new agreements to ensure continental security.
For Germany, as for most EU member states, the Atlantic alliance is the main pillar of European security. While for France as an independent nuclear power, it is not an existential necessity, Germany has to balance Russian nuclear forces with the nuclear guarantees of the United States, on which it depends. NATO also guarantees to level the threats of a hybrid war with Russia, which Germany fears. It is doubtful that the Germans will seek other solutions to security problems in the short and medium term. France however is dissatisfied that so far there has been no implementation, nor decisions made regarding the need to increase military capabilities and that results can only be expected in the long term.
After new US President Trump’s refusal, at his first NATO summit, to reaffirm article 5 of the NATO Washington Treaty, German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that Europeans need to take their fate into their own hands. However, upon his return to Washington, Donald Trump assured US commitment to that same article. These contradictory statements raise growing doubts about US military solidarity with the EU and speculation about an alleged gap in the future between the US and Europe. The situation is further complicated by France and Germany’s solidarity in rejecting what they call the « new Yalta-style » of negotiations proposed by Russia. According to France and Germany, Russia is only ready to lead negotiations on issues of territories and zones of influence from this position, defending its own red lines of security. The French, German and Russian perceptions of international and regional security coincide only fragmentarily, and the uncertainty of the global political situation prevents the three countries from overcoming mistrust caused by recent events and a series of crises.
The competing visions of France and Germany regarding the final version of the European project (as a civil normative power or in form of civil military power), differences in perception and understanding of European security problems, and the competition for the leadership of the European Union make the situation even more ambiguous.
In reply to the key question of this article: whether and to what extent the renewed Franco-German axis of the EU can optimise EU’s relations with Russia, we can say the following: the reconstruction of the European Union under the renewed Franco-German leadership can be discussed, but it is still premature to expect systemic changes in the relationship between the EU and Russia.
The goal of a new reset of Franco-German relations and of a more detailed explanation of the European project will be definitively determined after the formation of the new Franco-German pair of European leadership. The French presidential elections demonstrated the return of Gaullist ideas, which is positive for the improvement of relations with Russia. New President Emmanuel Macron invited Vladimir Putin to Paris, offering new perspectives and a new dynamic for the development of relations, for example, in the field of Franco-Russian cooperation on combating terrorism. It is doubtful however, that the new President of France will oppose Angela Merkel’s approach to understanding EU unity and building relations with Russia. The priority of his government is the further integration of the EU, for which a condition is the renewal of Franco-German relations. An important step towards this was the German Chancellor’s speech on the 20th of June, 2017, where at a meeting with representatives of the Federation of German Industries (BDI), Merkel unexpectedly offered to support Macron’s pre-election ideas, to create a common budget and designate a Minister of Finance in the eurozone. However, the new German coalition treaty (CDU-CSU-SPD) with Angela Merkel as chancellor for a fourth term, lowers expectations on drastic eurozone reforms.
In relation to this, it is interesting to note that despite serious criticism of Germany by political elites and the population of eurozone countries, regarding its approach towards the management of the eurozone crisis, most still believe that the country plays a positive role in the EU. Merkel’s statement was made following a meeting with the French President, one the day after his inauguration, during which a special commission for reforming the eurozone in order to resolve EU’s financial problems was established. This event (although its consequences are ambiguous) suggests that the revival and strengthening of the Franco-German alliance has already started. For Russia, in geopolitical terms, this could mean the establishment of a new point of equilibrium on the Eurasian continent. In political terms, it could lead to the creation of a new, perhaps not only wider, but more importantly, more stable ensemble.
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