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France and Germany: Headed for Divorce?

France and Germany celebrated a golden anniversary today: 50 years ago, the Élysée Treaty sealed a relationship between them. But, as longtime expert François Heisbourg writes in the FT, even the jubilant music of the Berlin Philharmonic can’t mask the wheezing of the ailing Franco-German partnership.

Last week’s announcement of the Bundesbank’s repatriation of its gold from the Banque de France was a poignant symbol of the fraying of the relationship between the two powers at the heart of the EU.

From the eurozone crisis to intervention in Libya and Mali, and the failed merger of EADS and BAE Systems, the differences and tensions between Paris and Berlin are palpable. The fabled Franco-German motor appears no longer to be driving European integration.

There is no question that the two countries are experiencing what Heisbourg describes as a “loss of intimacy.” Germany’s decision to remove 374 tons of gold from Paris was largely propelled by public opinion, reflecting a growing national wariness of France and its economy. But the Franco-German relationship has long been strained. Each has a distinct vision for the Eurozone, and their failure to reach a compromise has largely prevented the EU from escaping the greatest crisis since its formation. Yet neither sees any alternative to clinging on, and the result is a deepening crisis in the EU periphery and a continual cooling at the core.

The euro mess isn’t going away, and if the “Franco-German motor” continues to sputter, the loss of drive and idealism will imperil the European project.

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