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Saturday, 30 July 2016

Brexit increasing tensions in Franco-German relations

Finian Cunningham
Strategic Culture Foundation

Berlin and Paris have long been seen as the main political drivers for the European Union project. When Britain voted last month to quit the 28-member bloc, it was German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande to whom the leadership role beckoned for rallying a 'united Europe' and defending the core concept of the EU.

However, this circling of wagons by the EU's top two nations is prone to debilitating competing nationalist interests. And those diverging interests will tend to undermine the much-heralded unity of purpose between Berlin and Paris. What we can expect, in the aftermath of the Brexit, is increasing tensions between Germany and France that could, in turn, lead to further fracturing of the EU.

Already a notable divergence of positions has emerged. When Britain's new Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May embarked on her first foreign visit last week she was scheduled to meet Chancellor Merkel in Berlin, followed the next day by a reception with President Hollande at the Élysée Palace, Paris. May had to wait until the evening on the second day to be received by Hollande who had earlier that same day gone on an official visit to the Republic of Ireland. His strange absence looked like Hollande was sending the British leader a sly snub.

More substantively was the contrasting German and French positions on the Brexit process. The British premier had announced that there would be no formal commencement of Britain's departure from the EU until early next year. Britain, said May, needed to formulate suitable economic terms with the EU before it would sign Article 50 of the 2007 Lisbon Treaty, thus triggering the exit process.

On this delayed departure from the EU by Britain, the German chancellor appeared to be in comfortable agreement with her British counterpart. Merkel said she understood the importance for Britain to obtain economic matters in order.

By contrast, Hollande reportedly adopted a much more vexed attitude, demanding 'the sooner the better' Britain leaves the EU. While the French president appeared to soften his hardline stance on meeting May, he nevertheless continued to express his government's frustration with Britain. Speaking alongside the British leader, Hollande said that Britain cannot continue to avail of the single market while imposing restrictions on freedom of movement.
This differing position between Berlin and Paris towards the Brexit was apparent immediately following the British referendum result. The French have been pushing a policy for more abrupt termination in Britain's membership of the EU compared with the Germans.

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