The end of the European peace order has put cooperation between Germany and France to the test. There was irritation about German arms purchases and energy policy. Now the governments in Berlin and Paris are turning their attention to each other anew. Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock kicked things off this week at the French cabinet meeting. The Greens immediately succeeded in winning sympathy at the Élysée Palace. She chatted with ministers over a cup of coffee until President Emmanuel Macron arrived and opened the cabinet meeting. In the place of honor at the side of the head of state, she introduced her remarks in impeccable French. Members of the government were impressed.

Baerbock's charm offensive is important. After all, german-French cooperation at government level was never based solely on routine, contractually agreed exchange processes. Personal connections have always been important in order to move forward on conflict issues. For far too long, the German government under Chancellor Olaf Scholz has underestimated how much effort it must make to maintain its relationship with France.

Pulling together

The relationship with Europe's largest neighbour is not a foregone conclusion. Although many bridges cross the Rhine, Germany and France are profoundly different. Even 60 years after the signing of the Élysée Treaty, the dividing lines must be overcome on a daily basis. The best way to do this is through warm, benevolent contacts. Paradoxically, party-political proximity is rarely an advantage. This is particularly evident in the European debate on the Stability Pact. Although the party friends of Finance Minister Christian Lindner of the FDP and President Macron sit in a parliamentary group in the EU Parliament, the views on the reform of the financial rules differ widely. National differences weigh more heavily than ties between a family of parties.

Foreign Minister Baerbock has succeeded in establishing a trusting relationship with Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna. She speaks of her as a "friend". This facilitates cooperation, as shown, for example, by the rescue operation for EU citizens in Sudan, which was carried out in close consultation. Chancellor Scholz and President Macron must first prove that they are pulling together for the benefit of Europe. On 6 June, which is remembered in France as D-Day, there is a first meeting outside the government protocol in Potsdam. It is intended to help chart a more consensual path. So far, the relationship between the two statesmen has been marked by rivalry. Scholz responded to Macron's Sorbonne speech in September 2017 at Charles University in Prague in August 2022.

Putting the unifying element in the foreground

Macron's call for greater internal consolidation of the EU was countered by Scholz with a plea for enlargement and larger free trade areas. Macron's quest for strategic autonomy in defense contrasted Scholz with the close ties to the United States. The opposites are not insurmountable. As a fully integrated NATO member, France is an important ally. It is tantamount to a small revolution that Macron has played an active role in opening up the prospect of European accession for Ukraine and Moldova. The president also deviates from the traditional reservations on free trade agreements.

France is changing rapidly under Macron. He has embarked on one reform after another. The protests against raising the retirement age convey the image of a blocked country. This overlooks how much France's economic attractiveness has increased. For the fourth year in a row, France is the most attractive location for investors in Europe. The unemployment rate has fallen to just over seven percent, and growth is stronger than in Germany. The infrastructure, from the high-speed rail connections to the digital connection, is better than in Germany. Many French people see their country in a downward spiral. The high level of debt, the failed integration of immigrants and deficits in education and health care are legitimate cause for concern. Nevertheless, one should rather take into account the strengths of one's neighbor in Berlin.

Macron will remain an uncomfortable partner, reminding again and again that the German chancellor should not rely too much on the friend in Washington. The course for future dependencies is being set today with the arms purchases. Macron's state visit to Germany at the beginning of July offers the opportunity to focus on what unites us. In the foreseeable future, France will not become more European than it was under Macron.