Radio Sputnik has discussed the new Franco-German agreement signed 56 years after the original Elysée accord with Gino Raymond, Professor of Modern French Studies, University of Bristol.
Sputnik: What are your thoughts on this new treaty? Does it open a new chapter in German-French relations?
Gino Raymond: There is a very powerful symbolic element to it, of course. It's taking place in what in German is called Aachen and in French is called Aix-la-Chapelle and is taking place in what was the site of the palace of Charlemagne. As you know Charlemagne's empire covered most of what is now modern Germany and modern France. Both Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel have received the Prix Charlemagne, which is a prize bestowed on a European statesperson who has advanced the cause of European cooperation. So there is a very powerful symbolic element to this.
Sputnik: The goal of the new treaty is to deeper converge the two nations economies, is this an attempt to show example to other European Union nations?
But there are, nonetheless, significant fault lines. It is difficult to see how, for example, a country like Italy will be inspired by this move because from an Italian point of view they can see, for example, that France in the coming year will not be able to stick within the 3% ceiling with regard to its overshoot in terms of its indebtedness with regard to its budget. So while the French may be able to do that and not receive too much criticism, the Italians feel very unhappy at the fact that they always seem to be picked on with regard to a lack of fiscal discipline.
So the idea of giving an example is a good one, but how other economies in Europe, particularly in the south of Europe, particularly countries like Italy, how they will react to that is another matter.
Sputnik: The development comes as both Ms Merkel and Mr Macron are weakened domestically, what correlation does it have to the timing of the treaty's signature?
Gino Raymond: It's very clear, I think, that Angela Merkel is thinking of her legacy. She has dominated the European political scene for the best part of two decades. Now she's an outgoing chancellor and she's thinking of how will Europe and how will history judge her legacy.
The polls suggest that his movement the LaREM — La République En Marche! — might poll around presently according to the polls it might get around 23% of the popular vote. That will only put it 2% ahead of Marine Le Pen's Rassemblement National — the National Rally. So that would not look good, and he's very concerned to polish up his credentials as the leader of the European project, and hopefully avert what could be an embarrassing result in the European elections in May.
Sputnik: Professor, speaking of Ms Merkel, she has been called a de facto leader of the European Union, now that we know that Ms Merkel will finish her political career in 2021 can we say that Mr Macron wants to step into her shoes?
Gino Raymond: I think it's very much his ambition to be the leader of the European project. The French anyway see the European project as very much theirs. They think of the Schuman Declaration in 1950. They think of the reconciliation engineered by de Gaulle with Germany, the original L'Elysée Treaty. They think of figures like Francois Mitterrand, for example, who pushed the European project forward when it seemed to have stalled.
They think, intellectually, that the European project is very much their project, and I think Macron would very much like to see himself as the great European leader. Whether he succeeds in doing that is another matter. Because I've already mentioned the tension within the European Union. The bottom line is that France economically is still very much in a fragile state and it's going into a period of low or no growth. So whether he can actually step into the shoes of Merkel as the European leader is debatable.
Sputnik: Returning to this bilateral treaty professor, among other things the document outlines the negotiations on the reform of the United Nations Security Council and French support for the German candidacy for permanent membership in the body. Do you think it will be approved and how will the United Nations respond to this proposal?
Sputnik: Mr Macron has long voiced his wish for a true European army, which Ms Merkel supported. With this new treaty signed what are the chances that this idea will gain some traction?
Gino Raymond: It is interesting that in contrast to France, of course, as you know France left NATO over half a century ago, Germany is still wedded to the Atlantic alliance. Germany is still wedded to the idea of the United States playing a crucial role in Europe's defence architecture. There are grave doubts as to whether Germany can actually disinvest in NATO and invest in a European army or a European counterpart. That's one issue.
And there's a third consideration. Would other members of the European Union like Hungary, like Poland, like the Czech Republic, for historical and cultural reasons, would they be happy to see a powerful German contribution to European army, given the fact that Germany would financially and materially be the dominant partner? Will they be willing to accept that? Especially, as with the possible departure of Britain from the European Union, there would be an imbalance in that particular military infrastructure.
Sputnik: Professor, does Europe really need its own army? It has NATO, France has its own army, quite a powerful one, last time I checked it was in the top five most powerful armies.
Gino Raymond: The thinking behind this is really from a French point of view particularly, is how to secure the idea of European Union sovereignty. It's difficult to promote the idea of European Union sovereignty without all the other attributes of sovereignty, notably, an independent means of defence and an independent means of projecting European power or the EU's power on a foreign stage.
So the issue here is about France and Europe being able to emancipate themselves from the American umbrella. So there are very powerful political considerations behind this; especially as given the deteriorating relationship between the EU and the United States under Donald Trump. It may change after Donald Trump leaves office, but at the moment there seems to be almost profound shift in American attitudes to Europe and the European Union, particularly France, is conscious of that.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Gino Raymond and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.