Crisis of Friendship Split Persists Between Berlin and Paris

As a further sign that all is not well in the Franco-German motor of Europe, the two countries will not issue a joint statement ahead of the next EU summit as Berlin had hoped. The development comes as France slips further into economic malaise.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and François Hollande at a March meeting in Berlin: The French president describes relations as respectful.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and François Hollande at a March meeting in Berlin: The French president describes relations as respectful.

Foto: Kay Nietfeld/ dpa

It's no secret that major differences are stewing between Berlin and Paris over the best recipes for combating the debt crisis. Despite efforts by French President François Hollande to suggest relations are just fine, they clearly aren't. In an address to his country on Thursday in which he pushed for an economic government in the euro zone, Hollande once again stated France has no problems with Germany and that his interactions with Chancellor Angela Merkel are "respectful." The only issues, he said, are when it comes to Europe. And even then, he said, Germany is prepared to make compromises, even if it "sometimes takes a while."

But in another sign that the Franco-German tandem often referred to as the motor of Europe has stalled  is the fact that the two countries are likely to eschew presenting a joint strategy in the run up to the next European Union summit in June, government sources told SPIEGEL.

When Nicolas Sarkozy was still in office, Germany and France  presented joint positions several times prior to EU summits. And this time, too, officials at Merkel's Chancellery had been pushing for a similar statement as a show of unity between Berlin and Paris. But sources at the Chancellery say this won't come to fruition because differences at the moment are too great to bridge.

German government sources said that Hollande had been skeptical of the plan from the very beginning. The French president is reportedly worried that a joint statement with Germany before an important EU meeting could irritate other member states.

Originally, further steps in the integration of economic and currency policy had been planned at the summit in June, but government sources in Berlin now say they don't expect any concrete results at the meeting.

Hollande Calls for 'Economic Government'

Speaking one year after his election to office, Hollande  held a press conference on Thursday in front of 400 journalists at the presidential palace in Paris, at which he called for the creation of an "economic government" for the euro zone that would meet "monthly" under the stewardship of a president.

The leftist Socialist Party member said he wanted to pull Europe out of its "lethargy" and gave a time span of two years to "create the blueprint for a political union." He also indicated that Germany has expressed a willingness to consider such a union and that Europe could not move forward without the "indispensible German-French pair."

His speech came one day after the French economy officially slid into recession. Investments and exports are waning in France, purchasing power is falling and unemployment has reached record levels. "We will probably have growth in 2013 of zero percent, " the president conceded.

In terms of the economic government for the euro zone, he said it would coordinate economic policies among member states and also harmonize tax law. He also called for greater efforts to reduce high youth unemployment levels.

'A Balance Between Budgetary Rigor and Growth'

"It is my responsibility as the leader of a founding member of the European Union … to pull Europe out of this torpor that has gripped it, and to reduce people's disenchantment with it," he said, according to Reuters. "If Europe does not advance, it will fall or even be wiped from the world map."

He also said, "We have to find a balance between budgetary rigor and support for growth."

In addition to growth, Hollande said better education and training was needed as well as more competiveness -- also in relation to neighboring Germany.

Merkel: 'We Need Common Understanding in Europe'

For her part in Berlin, Merkel  on Thursday stressed the need for reforms in France. "What we need above all is a common understanding in Europe -- and there unfortunately isn't one yet -- of what actually makes us strong and where growth comes from," Merkel said at a European policy forum, according to the Associated Press.

Hollande has called for a greater pooling of political and financial resources in the long run, including sovereign debt, but Berlin has vehemently opposed any calls for collective European debt in the form of eurobonds. Germany has argued that the EU isn't ready for eurobonds and that it would require a change to the European treaties.

Speaking at the forum, Merkel also said "the German-French relationship has very strong foundations," and that her personal relationship with Hollande is also "a good" one, but doesn't preclude "differences as well."

Responding to a controversial recent draft paper by the French Socialist Party describing her EU policies as egotistical, Merkel responded by saying, "I am not an egoist. I know that things can only go well for Germany if Europe is doing well."