The French are keen on a European leadership position; Germans are eager to step away from the helm. We don't want a return to German power phantasies, but neither do we want to give up on the French-German Elysée Treaty. For all these reasons, François Hollande is ill-suited to be French president in a modern Europe.
To us Germans, two European partnerships are absolutely fundamental: Our alliances with Poland and France. The reasons are historical as well as contemporary. Both countries suffered tremendously under the Nazi regime. The mutual commitment to reconciliation laid the foundation for the peaceful agenda of the European Union after the Second World War, and again after the fall of the Iron Curtain. But the process of reconciliation is far from over – this much we can tell from contemporary debates about European leadership.
A few weeks ago, the Polish foreign minister addressed the German government with a dramatic appeal. He argued that Germany must take over the helm to steer Europe through stormy waters: The biggest economy with the strongest influence on global financial and economic discussions ought to become the spokesperson for the Eurozone. In Germany, the appeal was received with surprise. Usually, our neighbors are very sensitive to – and skeptical of – German power interests. They can still remember a time when their grandparents lived under German occupation.
In France, president Sarkozy has recommended the “German model” of running an economy and controlling the national budget. Again, we were surprised by the praise from Paris. The Franco-German partnership, established in 1945, is even deeper than our relations with Poland, but we know how attuned the French still are to German ambitions. Since Charlemagne divided his empire among his sons, the French and the Germans have been bound together in good times and bad. We might not always like each other (except during family gatherings, when sympathies prevail), but our linkage is inextricable.