German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

Can France and Germany Come Together?

The crisis in Catalonia and the resilience of European populists have made a well-functioning Franco-German partnership more important than ever. But if the European project is going to have any chance of surviving, the gap between German prudence and French audacity will have to be bridged.

PARIS – Seven months ago, when Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front had a chance of winning the French presidency, Germany feared for France’s future. But after Germany’s federal election in September, France has not been particularly afraid for its neighbor. The extreme-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), for all its gains, is not about to come to power. Germany, after all, is not Austria.

Nevertheless, French and German elites have found a common cause for concern: Germany may be unable to seize the exceptional opportunity created by French President Emmanuel Macron’s victory. Before, the problem was not that Germany was too strong, but that France was too weak. Now the problem is not that France is too ambitious for Europe, but that Germany is not ambitious enough.

For years, Germans complained that France was incapable of domestic reform, and that the French did not understand the meaning of “federalism” in the context of the European Union. Against that backdrop, Macron took the stage, presenting himself as an activist philosopher-president. He is a disciple of the French philosopher Paul Ricœur, and speaks of “European sovereignty” in the same way that German philosopher Jürgen Habermas speaks of “European citizenship.”

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