On December 8, Olaf Scholz was sworn in as new chancellor of Germany after his predecessor and political mentor Angela Merkel had governed the country for the past 16 years. In the wake of power-transition in Germany, Scholz went onto Paris and Brussels where he announced that he will earnestly work with other member states of the European Union (EU) to make Europe “strong and sovereign”, as his predecessor did. This indicates that Scholz intends not only to prioritize the German-French axis, but also to make coordinate efforts among the EU in dealing with the major challenges such as foreign policy, security and massive immigration, new energy resources, border protection and relations with third countries.
Historically or let’s say that during the 1920s, both French and German elites tried to make inter-war efforts at European integration and a rapprochement was integral to this effort, but ended in failure by 1932. Despite this scenario, efforts to integrate Europe around a Franco-German axis during this decade can nonetheless be understood as part of a deeper process that eventually leads to the emergence of the current European Union. Nowadays France and Germany are more desirous of enhancing strategic sovereignty of the EU or making a powerful Europe in a multipolar world. For example, in 2017, French President Macron called for the European Union to work more closely on defense and migration and for a euro zone budget. He then urged his peers to put European vision above national interests. Echoing Macron’s ambitious plan, then German Chancellor Merkel praised her French counterpart for laying down the foundation for “intense” Franco-German cooperation on the future of Europe. Now with France’s turn as the rotating presidency of the EU Council in the first six-month of 2022, it is the mandate time for France and Germany to work together in a more constructive way.
There is no doubt that “making Europe strong and sovereign” needs to be more than a political project since it is essentially related to statecraft on how to realize this goal through its coordinated defense and foreign policy among the EU member states. Scholz is well-aware of this as he stated in Brussels that any threat against any EU country will not be acceptable. Germany and France have shared the responsibilities in shaping the future role of the EU in the 21st century. Although no formal Franco-German Axis exists militarily, the two countries have moved forward towards the scenario of “Concert of Europe” since The Elysee Treaty was signed in 1963. Politically, it is opined as the cornerstone of French-German reconciliation and cooperation, and one of the key milestones in the process of European integration. As Norman Davies argues, the treaty restored German self-respect through “establishing a ‘special relationship’ which no other European nations possesses. Henceforth, a comprehensive program of Franco-German solidarity in foreign affairs, defense, education, and youth, cemented by regular meetings of heads of state, have provided the only consistent source of leadership in Europe.” It is due to the legacy of The Elysee Treaty that The Aachen Treaty of Friendship in 2019 further testifies the mutual trust between France and Germany and the legal basis to adopt a common stand concerning the major European and international issues. As de Gaulle admitted in 1964 during his meeting with German leader Ludwig Erhard, a sovereign Europe “will only be a reality when France and Germany are truly united.”
For sure, today’s world no longer accepts military dominance or even coercion, at least not in Europe. Instead, an era of increasing globalization is more than ever defined by the competition of soft power. It means neither France nor Germany has been trying to impose its ideas on its partners but to show them that they are in the common interest which need time to reflect together. In fact, Paris and Berlin have reiterated that Europe does not need a supreme leader except in the fields of economics, technological innovations and financial management, making it clear that a Franco-German binary lead is not a step toward European hegemony. Due to this, the Aachen treaty simply aims to convince all Europeans that France and Germany cooperation and solidarity not only serve their own interest, but also diplomacy and security of Europe en bloc. As it argues that any country in the world, either large or small, must negotiate with the EU en bloc, rather than with Germany, France, Italy, Spain and so on. It must be clear: the world must accept the EU and the European Union must work together to that end.
In light of this line of reasoning, strategic sovereignty of the EU argues for a powerful and civilian Europe to play a role model in a multipolar world of today. One the one hand, the European Union opines that the scenario of the Cold War which shaped the international stage between the two hegemons should not return in the new era. It argues that the world will be a multipolar one with many players including a strong and sovereign Europe. On the other hand, under the pressure of the Biden administration which has inspired a new era of the cross-transatlantic alliances based on the shared-values, the EU has come to regard China and Russia as strategic competitors and even rivals in a geopolitical term. Given this, President Biden has made it clear that in coming decades, it is essential that “we stick together and insist on the importance of democracy as a cross-transatlantic alliance. Despite this, the EU often calls for peaceful co-existence among all the nation-states since the fact is that the challenges of globalization and new international issues can’t be tackled effectively by any one country or a political bloc. Accordingly the EU will act under the common diplomatic and security interests, including their efforts to seize the new opportunities in the new era and to find practical ways of sustainable development.
In sum, China has always endorsed the vision and practice of advancing “a strong, sovereign European Union” in light of multilateralism. Beijing has welcomed new German government to continue Merkel’s footsteps and strengthen the European Union on the global stage, and sincerely appreciated her non-confrontational approach to China. It is crystal clear that China has entertained no attempt to replace the EU through its so-called systemic competition. Put it blunt, China is not a threat to a sovereign EU rather than an expanding domestic market for the world including Europe. Now the globalized world community witnesses a rising China and a sovereign Europe co-existing not only benefit each other but also serve the peace and security and sustainable development of the “global village”. This is the starting point when this article talks about the sovereignty of Europe pivoting on the Franco-German axis.