Franco-German Perspectives on the European Political Community

Europäische Politische Gemeinschaft

Die Europäische Politische Gemeinschaft trifft sich in Prag

The European Political Community met on the 6th of October in Prague and created a new platform for dialogue. Member states of the European Union can now reach out to their Eastern European partners. However, Germany and France have different historical relations and ideas about Eastern Europe. In the context of the Ukraine war, can they reach common ground?

 "The offer has met a demand," wrote a French analyst a few hours after the conclusion of the founding meeting of the European Political Community (EPC) in Prague on 6th October 2022. Yet the proposal by Emmanuel Macron five months earlier in the European Parliament had been received by many with a certain scepticism, if not rejection. Many saw his attempt to stop EU enlargement and create an intermediate space in which accession candidates may be stuck in negotiations for eternity as an ill-conceived idea. As a result, the project remains an empty shell, much like many other earlier French propositions. Politically, it will not produce anything concrete.

New Impetus for the Peace Process in the South Caucasus

The fact that the summit did not end with a final official declaration would have been enough to confirm the reservations expressed by many. But this new meeting format has historical significance. The following pictures exemplify the potential of this initiative:

  • The first picture is a family picture with the 44 heads of government: a strong signal of unity, in particular toward Moscow;
  • The second picture shows Emmanuel Macron, Charles Michel and the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan - Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and President Ilham Aliyev - in conversation. The EU has tried several times to mediate between the two hostile countries. The meeting in Prague provided a platform to give the peace process in the South Caucasus a new impetus. The Union is not free of interests in the region. It needs oil and gas from Azerbaijan and depends on the "central corridor" connecting the Caucasus with the Black and Caspian Seas as a supply link. Thus stability on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan is central for the EU. The unique quality of the format launched by Macron has made possible coordination that could ultimately benefit the entire region, not least Turkish-Azerbaijani relations. Still, progress in the normalisation between the countries who have been enemies for decades should be treated with the utmost caution. A meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan would have been hard to imagine in any other context, especially considering the role Russia has played in the region since the early 1990s and Armenia's attachment to Moscow.

We share a common environment, often a common history, and we are called to write our future together.

Emmanuel Macron in Prague

Europe as a Community of one Common Destiny

On his arrival in Prague, Emmanuel Macron spoke of ‘strategic intimacy’ to describe the new format. While the term is not new - it has already been used several times in the context of his African policy, amongst others (albeit in a slightly different form: ‘initimité sécuritaire’), but, applied to the EPC, it stands for community, for a common destiny within the Ukraine war context. "We share a common environment, often a common history, and we are called to write our future together," Macron said in Prague. He stated that the aim now is to reach a joint assessment of the geopolitical situation and develop projects in different areas and formats. EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Josep Borrell agreed with him. 

Political instruments such as the EU enlargement policy, the European Neighbourhood Policy or the Eastern Partnership are no longer sufficient. Only a broadly-positioned Europe could guarantee security, stability and prosperity: "This meeting is an opportunity to “build a new security structure in Europe. It has to be done without Russia," Borrell explained. (Note: without Russia, not against Russia). Macron will not have missed this subtle difference. For him, Russia is and remains a geographical entity to deal with. Indeed, it is now a matter of facing the new geopolitical situation and establishing an order that works without Russia. After the end of the war, however, the question will quickly come back on the table, probably at France's insistence. This will be the first stress test for a forum that sees itself primarily as an alliance against Putin, not least for the Eastern Europeans.

EPC as Macron's ‘triumph’ for a Kind of United Nations of Europe

The British historian Arnold J. Toynbee sees the alternation of challenge and response as a law of motion in history. The EPC fits into this logic. It is the response to an unprecedented tectonic shift since the end of the Second World War. It makes it all the more remarkable that this reality is barely five months old. Yet the "process" is anything but new. 

A look back at recent history shows that the EU learns from crises and has already had many experiences with ad hoc solutions. The Euro rescue umbrella was one of them, and the Corona reconstruction fund was another. When it succeeded, it was usually because France and Germany worked in tandem in the hour of need. But one should remember that the EPC is not the result of close Franco-German consultations but Macron's disruptive policy-making. It is undoubtedly an instrument that, with Germany and France's help. It would allow them to retrieve the funds they gambled away before and in the course of the war. The framework is not set in stone but is intentionally flexible and adaptable to the wishes of the EPC members and rapidly changing circumstances providing an excellent opportunity for Eastern Europeans to voice their perspective.  

In the aftermath of his eventful and fruitful French Council Presidency, the EPC project can, in any case, be seen as Macron's "triumph" for the "founding a kind of United Nations of Europe", as Alexander Graff Lambsdorff, Deputy Chairman of the FDP, described it in an interview with Deutschlandfunk.

First Outlines of a Common Franco-German Ostpolitik

France and Germany must find common ground when it comes to their relations with Eastern Europe. In contrast to the President's strong position in French foreign policy, the German Chancellor has to consider his coalition partners in matters of principle. Although Olaf Scholz gave the EPG clear support in his Prague speech on European policy on 29 August 2022, the future direction of Germany's Russia policy will still have to be agreed upon within the coalition. The Chancellor, who, like his French partner, is always seeking dialogue with Russia, will meet the Greens and Liberals, who quite apparent can no longer imagine a European order that includes Russia.  

But the war in Ukraine is also an opportunity for the EPG to draw the contours of a New European Eastern Policy not only with members of the EU but also with strategic partners such as Great Britain or Turkey. However, France and Germany must rethink their previous premises for this.

It is (...) our historical duty not to act as we have always acted and see EU accession as the only answer, but (...) to initiate a historical reflection on the organisation of our continent that does justice to current events.

Emmanuel Macron in a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 9 Ma

The French president had long relied on a security architecture that stretched from "Lisbon to Vladivostok", cultivating an integrative-cooperative dialogue with Putin. The climax was reached during an announcement in the summer of 2019 before the ambassadors' conference in Paris. A statement that took place without the consultation of his advisors. Macron stated that the Russian president should be given a strategic option and that "relations with Russia should be fundamentally rethought". The war of aggression on Ukraine brought about a profound paradigm shift: it forced Macron to the painful realisation that Russia is a piece only difficult to fit into Europe's security architecture puzzle (see the TV documentary: Un président, l'Europe et la guerre, France 2, 30 June 2022). Macron learned from Charles de Gaulle that one should always be careful to adapt one's ideas to political realities. The Butscha massacre finally tipped the balance. After weeks of reconsideration, he made a huge course correction. In his speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 9 May, he emphasized that Europe has the historic duty, not to do what it has always done, not to say that the only solution is accession, but rather to open up a historic reflection commensurate with the events that Europe is experiencing, on the organization of our continent. 

For Germany, the war in Ukraine means nothing less than a break from its previous Ostpolitik. Its most crucial premise was the assumption that Russia was necessary to the European order. In this, Germany was in entire agreement with France. Thus, there is continuity from the  "European Concert" of the 19th century, where Russia was part of the order, to Bismarck, to the German Ostpolitik of the 1970s, to German’s "modernisation partnership" of 2008, up to the Nord Stream 1 and 2 projects. However, this kind of Ostpolitik was bound to fail because of the "Putin system", which was not bent on modernisation but on self-enrichment and corruption. Ultimately it endangered the West. In Vladimir Putin's imperial thinking, there was no room for the "common house of Europe", as was Michael Gorbachev's vision. Today, Russia sees itself as a Eurasian superpower, one of the poles in the multipolar world.

A New European Eastern Policy conceived by France and Germany begins with the statement that the "key" no longer lies in Moscow, where Willy Brandt and Charles de Gaulle had seen it. It now lies in Kyiv. Economic, political and military support for Ukraine is the answer to Russia's destruction of the European security order. The West's consensus on this has so far proved astonishingly resistant. It goes beyond a security order created by NATO. Through sanctions, funding of heavy weapons deliveries to Ukraine, and its decision to accept Ukraine as a candidate for EU membership, the EU has shown that it is capable of strategic thinking. Finally, the EPC will be able to provide a framework for security cooperation with Ukraine. The contours of a New European Eastern Policy, which may also include other members of the former Eastern Partnership, are becoming visible. The security order in Europe will indeed first be organised against Russia. When the war ends, it will be necessary to negotiate with Russia. During this process, the experiences of the old Ostpolitik will become helpful again, especially concerning arms control and confidence building. 

Landry Charrier is an associate member of the SIRICE (Identities, International Relations and Civilisations of Europe) research unit at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique at the Sorbonne University in Paris co-producer of the France podcast Franko-viel.

Hans-Dieter Heumann was President of the Federal Academy for Security Policy in Berlin from 2011 to 2015. He is a former ambassador and has held posts at the German missions in New York (UN), Washington, Moscow and Paris. At the Federal Foreign Office, he worked, among other things, on the management and planning staff. Publications on international and European politics as well as German foreign policy, most recently: "Strategische Diplomatie - Europas Chance in der multipolaren Welt", Paderborn 2020. Heumann is the biographer of the long-serving German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher.