The close Franco-German relationship of the last few decades has served as the glue keeping the European Union from disintegrating further into a loose alliance of countries whose main interest is promoting trade.

The legacy of the 1963 treaty, signed in Paris by post-World War II leaders Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle, remains strong on everything from military cooperation to youth exchanges.

Still, in the last year since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the changing world order has strained relations between France and Germany. This is bad news for those who still believe in the importance of the EU remaining a bastion of democracy in the free world.

When French President Emanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz met in Paris to mark the 60th anniversary of the Paris Treaty, they reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen their ties.

Speaking at the Sorbonne University, Scholz said that solid relations were vital for the continent. He argued: “The future, like the past, rests on cooperation between both our countries as the driving force of a united Europe.”

Macron agreed with Scholz on the crucial importance of strong Franco-German ties. He said: “Germany and France, because they cleared the part to reconciliation, must become pioneers to relaunch Europe.”

The reality on the ground is less encouraging. Differences between France and Germany have risen to the surface since the Ukraine invasion. Both were initially reluctant not to alienate Russia. Germany still depends heavily on the supply of Russian natural gas for its manufacturing industry. It also has strong ties with China and any move by China to ape Russia’s land grab for Ukraine in Taiwan would put Germany’s second vital great-power trading relationship at risk. 

Last year, France and other neighbours objected strongly when Germany spent €200 billion to subsidise energy costs for its consumers, as this would crowd them out of the market. Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, a former French ambassador in Berlin, argues that the Franco-German relationship “has become less real for ordinary French and Germans and lost some of its emotions”.

Some political analysts have attributed the stalling relations to the poor chemistry between the two current leaders. France misses the strong ties it had with Scholz’s predecessor, Angela Merkel, who helped secure the unprecedented European response to the COVID crisis. Jacob Ross, a researcher at the German Council on Foreign Relations, believes that, in Paris, there is an impression of German “disinterest in the Franco-German relationship”. 

Germany has been largely happy to leave geopolitics to others under the protection of the US. Scholz’s reluctance to approve Poland’s re-export of Leopard tanks to Ukraine risked weakening Germany’s relationships with other EU member states. Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki was determined to send the Leopard tanks to Ukraine even without Germany’s approval.

A sigh of relief was felt in Kyiv and around Europe on Wednesday when Germany announced it had finally decided to allow the delivery of its powerful tanks, with the US following suit on its own M1 Abrams hours later. France is considering a similar move. 

On the economic front, Macron is losing no time in strengthening alliances with other member states to promote a united EU front in response to the US initiatives to subside American companies. After securing the backing of Spanish leader Pedro Sanchez, he said France and Germany had agreed on a “common line” on an “ambitious and rapid” European response to the American subsidies.

More than ever, the EU needs to see the Franco-German engine promoting the Union’s interests in trade, defence and the promotion of democratic values.

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