• Kapinos Elizaveta, Dontsov Denis

The current Franco-German axis in the EU: relations with the US and Russia

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with U.S. President Donald Trump walking by | Armando Babani/EPA

The research paper prepared for the international conference “Global Europe” held on 18 May in HSE, Moscow by Kapinos Elizaveta and Dontsov Denis

The modern international affairs suffer from instability in all regions of our world. The global trend is the emergence of the multi-polar world in return for the one-polar system of IA with the leading role of the US. This process is accompanied by the appearance of the new actors in the IA and changes in the roles of the existing players. As a vivid example, the EU which used to be called the most advanced integration in the world is now under rethinking of the idea of European integration. The inner problems resulted in the ongoing crisis. The end of this crisis is impossible to foretell. That is why it is highly important to analyze the current situation in the EU for understanding of the bilateral relations of the European integration with the US and Russia.

The modern Franco-German axis in the EU.

The very first step was to choose the theory to base our research upon. We decided to turn to the intergovernmentalism elaborated by S. Hoffman and A. Moravscik. On the basis of this theory of integration, we concluded that the EU is highly dependent on the cooperation of France and Germany. Their success is positive for the integration in whole. With regard to the results of the presidential elections in France late fall 2017 and the victory of E. Macron, we posed a question about the new Franco-German axis in the EU: whether Macron and Merkel are able to sort out the problems of the European integration or not? To answer the question, it was necessary to analyze both approaches of these two leaders to the integration and determine their ability to cooperate.

The research was started with the analysis of the European politics of A. Merkel. We took the most considerable events starting from the 2005 – Merkel’s win in elections in Germany. It is clear that the most significant events in the life of Europe which had relation to the German chancellor are the following:

  1. The creation of the Lisbon treaty in 2007.

  2. The world crisis 2007-2008 and consequent the crisis of eurozone.

  3. The migration crisis.

In regard to the first one, in the first half of 2007 Germany was the chairman of the Council of the EU. Thanks to this, Germany coordinated all the negotiations, which resulted in strengthening the international status and foreign influence of Germany. What is more, during 2000s Germany started playing a more significant role in the EU because of the French decline as a global power. That is why by the end of 2007 Germany turned into the only leader in the EU.

The world economic crisis and the crisis of eurozone were used to strengthen the economic power of Germany as it was the main money lender for the European Central Bank, which also allowed German government to make recommendations or, in other words, to guide the EU in crisis conditions.

The final event was the decision of A. Merkel to open the European border for the refugees from the Middle East. This decision together with the migration law of the EU provoked the ongoing refugee crisis, which became the bifurcation point for the EU in general.

Having analyzed all these events and Merkel’s European politics we came to the conclusion that the German chancellor’s approach to the EU is based on the national interests of Germany. Merkel accounts the EU as a multiplicator for the German economic influence. She preserves national sovereignty in those spheres of integration which strictly touch upon national interests. That is why Germany is against the introduction of the European Minister of Economy and advocates conservation of national tax regulation.

On the other hand, Merkel acts on the basis of the idea of United Europe. She believes that the power of Europe lies in solidarity and unity of all member-states. This point reveals the philosophical background of Merkel’s European politics. Every decision that she has made has been made in accordance with this idea.

The idea of power in unity is shared by both Merkel and Macron. We came to such a conclusion after the analysis of Macron’s proposals. The major part of them was announced in Sorbonne speech “Initiative for Europe” 26 September 2007.

Before turning to the speech, we should make a brief overview of France as a global actor when Macron won the elections. Since the 1990s due to economic reasons France was weakened, which resulted in deterioration of its international influence and, what’s more important, losing the chance to become the leader of the EU. Given facts are the reason why Macron’s program of internal reforms is expected to be the examination for the ability to reform the EU as a whole.

Returning to the Sorbonne speech of Macron, he introduced six main proposals:

  1. Creation of the European army, defense budget, and common action doctrine;

  2. Revision of the European migration legislation;

  3. Elaboration of CFSP towards Africa and the Middle East;

  4. Paris agreement fulfillment;

  5. Digital economy development in the EU;

  6. Turning Europe into the world economic and industrial leader.

Three of these proposals touch upon national interests of France. As France possesses nuclear weapons and historically was the political power of the EU, the European army is regarded to become the sphere of French influence. This would be a chance for France to benefit from the existence of the EU and maximize its foreign influence. This proves Macron’s idea to revitalize French influence, French status of great power.

This makes Macron give a dare to German leadership in the EU. That is why not only does he develop French political influence but also tries to undermine German economic power. The idea to introduce the European Minister of Economy was created to reduce the role of Germany in the European economic affairs. However, Macron is sure that the success of the European reform lies in the Franco-German cooperation, which was the ideological background for the renovation of the Elysee treaty among France and Germany in January 2018[1].

Taking everything into account, Franco-German partnership remains fundamental for the development of the European integration. Macron and Merkel are expected to propose a plan for the European reform but their ability to create it depends on their capability to adjust to national interests of each other, which could be extremely difficult. Most recently, Germany refused French proposals concerning economic and tax politics in the EU but agreed to prepare a mutual roadmap for the euro reform. Therefore we believe that contemporary Franco-German axis is likely to modify the modern structure of the EU but would be unable to design strategic reforms which are necessary for the development of the integration. This point is crucial for the future analysis of the foreign affairs of the EU with the US and Russia[2].


To analyze EU-US relations we need to specify the key factors which define the current Americano-European relations. These are the following factors:

  1. The “Trump factor”

  2. The inner EU competition between Germany and France

  3. Brexit and Great Britain.

The first one is related to Trump’s motto “Make America great again” and the tendency in his politics towards the new isolationism. Such approach is likely to switch from the multilateral negotiations using Euro-Atlantic organizations to Washington’s bilateral dialogue with its allies from the position of power. A shining example of this approach is the idea that is being masterminded in Washington according to which the US would like to reallocate expenses within the compass of NATO.

The second factor defines the importance of relations between the US and the EU franco-german axis. Macron tends to revitalize French status of a global power and to reform the EU in accordance with the French national interests. On the contrary, Merkel does not want to share the German leadership in the EU and wants to preserve the German influence on other European countries and on France too. That is why in the recent weeks both Merkel and Macron decided to go to Washington where in the White House were held americano-french and americano-german negotiations. The main topic of the first one was politics and the discussion of the Iran Nuclear Agreement, whereas negotiations between Trump and Merkel were primarily devoted to the economic and foreign trade affairs. This difference in agenda illustrates the competition for leadership in the US.

However, this is not the only factor which complicates Euro-Atlantic relations. Brexit is likely to dramatically change Great Britain’s status as a mediator between the US and the EU. The way it would be implemented would define the Euro-Atlantic relations in general since Great Britain is likely to stick to American agenda more.

Another factor which deteriorates the Euro-Atlantic dialogue is the American willingness to pursue one-sided policy, which is expressed by the unilateral decision to withdraw from the Iranian Nuclear Deal[3]. American aspiration to pursue protectionist policy in aluminum and steel trade with the European companies is also regarded as deteriorating factor in EU-US relations as it may seriously damage European economy in general.

The possible way of building a partnership between the US and the EU consists in creating the united European foreign position which would consider the expected reform in the EU. As Macron and Merkel pledge the European reform, the appearance of a strategic development of the EU may help to formulate the consolidated European position on the foreign affairs with the EU.


Nowadays the EU and Russia are on the verge of confrontation. According to experts, in the not too distant future, three main perspectives of the EU-Russia relations development may be singled out.

  1. The mixture of cooperation and confrontation where the latter is highly likely to prevail over collaboration.

  2. Co-existence, which is inherited from the Cold War epoch, in other words, putting the current situation on ice.

  3. Mutually beneficial cooperation[4].

Of course, for both sides the priority is cooperation. However, it poses an important question: what prevents the EU and Russia from collaboration?

Obviously, the reason is imposed sanctions on the Russian Federation. Firstly, sanctions have been an integral part of bilateral EU-Russia relations for the previous 4 years. It is clear that the existence of economic barriers contributes to stagnation of economic and business relations between two sides. Secondly, the expected diplomatic negotiations in the compass of formula “Full Minsk-2 for all sanctions” adapted by the European Commission abandoned the possibility for reestablishing the mutually beneficial, full-scale dialogue between Russia and the EU.

It is also important to highlight the lack of accordance among EU-members. Austria and some countries of Eastern Europe are ready for instant lifting up sanctions since the regime of trade limitations has damaged their trade with Russia. However, Western Europe countries are proceeding with supporting the sanctions regime, posing this as the united European position.

Moreover, the reasons for such controversy between member-states have to be defined. They are clear: the lack of a strategic development course for the European reform. The EU is fully concentrated on elaborating a roadmap for prospective reforms and the franco-german axis is currently under setup. That is why preserving the existing status-quo is expected to be the most beneficial strategy for the EU. In other words, Russia will remain a political rival and the idea of cooperation is likely to be abandoned[5].

What could be done in this situation? Russia should look for the new platforms for dialogue with the European Union. The best scenario is that the Russian Parliament would make a proposal for its European counterparts to hold negotiations in a Russian region or at SPIEF. Another possible scenario is the intensification of bilateral functional cooperation with single member-states of the EU as it is done in relations with Austria. Foreign platforms for dialogue could be used for holding section negotiations as it had been done in China. At any rate, Russia should prioritize cooperation with the EU and take the initiative for dialogue.

What is expected in the not too distant future? First of all, the summit of the EU in July. Macron and Merkel are about to propose a euro reform, which could either initiate the unite European politics and create a roadmap for strategic reforms in the EU or estrange European countries. In any case, Russia is an involved party, and the successful cooperation of franco-german axis and sooner emergence of a united approach to the ongoing crisis of the European integration, which could facilitate the reestablishment Russia-EU dialogue, are in Russia’s best interest.

Conclusion The current EU-US and EU-Russia relations are in process of reshaping. Their future is fully dependent on the ability of those in charge in Berlin and Paris to come to an agreement on strategic development of the European integration. And only after that, the progress in the bilateral relations between EU and its partners is expected to be. In the short run intensification of intergovernmental cooperation expected, but in the long run, after the possible appearance of a roadmap for European reform, a rebuilding of EU-US and EU-Russia relations is expected.

As soon as European countries start focusing on turning the roadmap into practice, they would have more resources to concentrate on foreign affairs. And in this case, the EU member-states would be able to pursue a more independent policy towards the US and reshape current relations with Russia, making them mutually beneficial and surmounting the existing barriers.

[1] Сагамонян А.А., «Елисейский договор 1962 года», просмотрено 28 февраль 2018 г., http://www.diplomatica.ru/?id=86&lng=ru&pl=page.

[2] Михаил Комин, Шенцева Таисия, «Переключая скорости. Что означают для России споры о реформе ЕС», Carnegie Moscow Center, просмотрено 25 май 2018 г., https://carnegie.ru/commentary/75105.

[3] «US withdrawal from nuclear deal will only incite Iran for action, Russian MP warns — RT Russian Politics News», просмотрено 25 май 2018 г., https://www.rt.com/politics/426336-us-withdrawal-iran-nuclear/.

[4] «РСМД :: Новая повестка отношений между Россией и ЕС», просмотрено 25 май 2018 г., http://russiancouncil.ru/activity/policybriefs/novaya-povestka-otnosheniy-mezhdu-rossiey-i-es/.

[5] Sabine Fischer, «Россия и ЕС: почему особых отношений с Германией и Францией больше не будет», Carnegie Moscow Center, просмотрено 25 май 2018 г., https://carnegie.ru/commentary/75019.