EU defence: 'France needs to convince the Germans to follow,' says Berlin's ex-ambassador to NATO


The submarine crisis has led to a fresh French push for European strategic autonomy. But France will need German backing, just as Chancellor Angela Merkel steps down after 16 years in office. How should France navigate the post-Merkel world, and can Paris persuade Berlin to go further when it comes to European defence? FRANCE 24's Armen Georgian puts those questions to Joachim Bitterlich, who was a key advisor to another long-serving German chancellor, Helmut Kohl, as well as being Germany's ambassador to NATO in the 1990s.


Bitterlich says: "Angela Merkel has for 16 years been a crisis manager, especially of European affairs. She has done this job well. The problem is the Germans now have to look at a series of real challenges –  the future of German industry, technologies, infrastructure, climate change – and the former governments under Mrs Merkel, either with the Liberals or with the Social Democrats, have not really prepared Germany for these challenges."

Asked about the Franco-German relationship, he finds it "so strange that we are still unknown neighbours, to a certain extent. My hope today is a new institution: the German-French parliamentary assembly, which could develop a new reflex on both sides. It has already looked into difficult subjects, such as the closure of the borders last spring by the Germans. We need a lot more people decoding to the other side what is happening, and what we could be doing together." 

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When asked about European defence, our guest says that he is "in favour of European strategic autonomy, even in the military field. There, I think the work has to begin with the Germans. Today there is not a majority in the German parliament to execute what I call defence in a French way, or security policy in the French way. I think that the work has to begin with conviction and education. The French have to convince the Germans to follow.  Today, in the German parliament, only the Christian Democrats are in favour. The other parties are far away."

In light of the current crisis between France and Australia and an Indo-Pacific project for Europe, Bitterlich says: "The Germans are re-discovering the Indo-Pacific area. The French have always been present there; the Germans less. The Europeans had put the Indo-Pacific to one side, and now they are re-discovering India, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia. So Europe should reflect on how to develop a European strategy towards this region."

Produced by Isabelle Romero, Yi Song, Perrine Desplats and Céline Schmitt

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