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After the Paris Attacks: France and Germany Strengthen Security Cooperation Despite Key Differences

Successive crises, most notably the refugee crisis and the recent Paris terrorist attacks, are testing the Franco-German relationship write Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer and Daniela Schwarzer. There is a feeling of mutual disappointment, and also a lack of understanding for each other’s political challenges. The European Union is facing deep challenges in its neighborhood and within its own borders, so it cannot afford its two largest member states to drift apart.

A new and robust consensus between France and Germany needs to bridge defense and security issues, justice and home affairs, and economic and financial questions. Bridging the gaps on these issues will not be easy.

Both countries are seeking a fairer share of responsibilities across the EU. Chancellor Angela Merkel has been disappointed by France’s reluctant response to the refugee crisis. From a German perspective, the French acceptance of 30,000 Syrians over the next two years falls short, as Germany is expecting up to 1 million in 2015 alone.

President François Hollande meanwhile has become increasingly frustrated by Germany’s hesitance to step up its military action against terrorism. France is facing a military overstretch, as it remains on the frontline of the fight against terrorism at home (spending €2 billion for security after the attacks, according to a preliminary estimate), and abroad in Africa and Iraq-Syria, despite EU’s direct security stakes in the region.

But the more substantive their differences are, the more Franco-German cooperation is needed.

The meeting between the two leaders last week has led to some progress. In addition to sending more German soldiers to Mali and increasing the Bundeswehr’s efforts in Northern Iraq to train Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, Germany’s defense minister offered to Tornado reconnaissance jets, aerial refueling, and satellite imagery to support the fight against the self-proclaimed Islamic State group (ISIS).

Berlin also proposed deploying a frigate to the Mediterranean to help protect the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. Surprisingly, over the weekend Berlin also announced it would send 1,200 soldiers to the Middle East to help France combat ISIS. Hollande saw this decision as a critical move, which may encourage other European states to answer his call for solidarity.

It took 13 long days for France to receive these offers from Berlin. But for Germany, the active support of military intervention in the Middle East is a controversial decision that cannot be taken quickly. This milestone in Germany foreign and security policy may lead to more Franco-German cooperation. In this, Germany will and should push for renewed diplomatic negotiations and reconciliation activities, leveraging its positive image in the region, with a particular focus on Syria and its neighbors.

Secondly, both countries need to increase coordination in the field of justice and home affairs. Merkel announced Germany’s open-door policy toward refugees unilaterally last summer, but later requested solidarity. With domestic pressure increasing, Merkel is even more dependent on a successful European reaction to the crisis, including internal quotas and cost-sharing.

The national border controls that both countries have instituted should only be temporary measures, limited to the currently announced three months. Priority should be given to managing refugee flows by strengthening the EU’s external borders, without destabilizing the Balkans, and to working with third countries.

The November 13 attacks have also changed German perceptions of terrorism. Nonetheless, Berlin was quick to rule out the possibility of creating a pan-European intelligence agency as an unacceptable surrender of sovereignty. Rather than discussing what is not possible, both Berlin and Paris should step up efforts to improve intelligence cooperation. The German and French economy ministers’ proposal to create a €10 billion fund over the next three years to fight terrorism and improve Europe’s handling of the refugee crisis rightly demonstrated leadership in a time of insecurity.

Finally, domestic and external security bears a huge price tag. The French government has again questioned the Stability and Growth Pact’s application, which is at the heart of EU efforts to control domestic budgetary and economic policies. The discussion whether defense expenditure should be excluded from the calculation of the budget is a source of long-standing controversy between Berlin and France.

Hollande’s strong declaration that “the security pact prevails over the stability pact” does not find much support in Germany, where policymakers are afraid to undermine the rules-governed approach to managing the eurozone. The euro area, meanwhile, remains an unfinished project still vulnerable to crises. Its success, and the EU’s eventual return to a more robust growth path, need to be part of the EU’s strategy to strengthen its resilience to internal and external threats.

The greater salience of security issues has allowed France to regain a part of the leadership role it had lost to Germany since the financial crisis began. The challenge, but also the potential, of the current situation is that single issue fixes will not be enough. Franco-German leadership will require that both capitals work through their differences to forge an all-encompassing consensus to fend off existential threats and strengthen the European Union.

Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer is a senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshal Fund’s (GMF) office in Paris. Daniela Schwarzer is Senior Director for Research and Director of the GMF’s Europe Program in Berlin. This article was first published by the GMF. 

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