Policy brief

Rethinking Franco-German relations: a historical perspective

Franco-German relations as the ‘engine’ of European integration are widely perceived to have stalled in recent years. This policy contribution assesse

Publishing date
07 November 2017

Franco-German relations as the ‘engine’ of European integration are widely perceived to have stalled in recent years. German economic and political strength, coupled with relative French economic and political weakness, help to explain this situation.

The re-election of Angela Merkel and the election of Emmanuel Macron in 2017 created a new potential basis for a strong, like-minded Franco-German alliance that would be able to agree on substantial policy issues. It is therefore a good time to assess what the Franco-German relationship can achieve, what its shortcomings are, and what it means for the wider governance of the euro area and the European Union.

An examination of some of the past major Franco-German agreements reveals a more complex picture than is usually recorded. The Schuman Plan (1950), the European Monetary System (1979) and the Maastricht Treaty (1992) left their mark as European integration milestones, but were also one-sided or incomplete policy agreements.

The future Franco-German relationship faces three issues that European policymakers should bear in mind 2017: (a) notwithstanding the new dynamics of the twenty-first century, a Franco-German agreement remains a critical and symbolic step necessary for reaching an EU agreement; (b) past Franco-German bargains were often one-sided and incomplete, and could not provide a definitive response to European challenges; (c) most of these agreements also involved critical input from other EU members, and suggest that the Franco-German tandem alone cannot lead the EU27 in the twenty-first century.

About the authors

  • Emmanuel Mourlon-Druol

    Emmanuel Mourlon-Druol was a Visiting fellow at Bruegel in 2015 and he is now a Non-resident fellow. He is Professor of History of European Cooperation and Integration at the European University Institute in Florence. His research focuses on European economic and monetary cooperation since 1945, sovereign debt crises and global governance. He is Principal Investigator of the project “EURECON: The Making of a Lopsided Union – Economic Integration in the European Economic Community, 1957-1992” funded by a Starting Grant of the European Research Council (ERC).

    Prior to joining the EUI, Emmanuel was Professor of International Economic History at the University of Glasgow. Emmanuel held several visiting appointments at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (2015-2019), the University of Economics in Prague (2015) and the University of Tokyo (2020). He is the author of A Europe Made of Money: the Emergence of the European Monetary System (Cornell University Press, 2012) and co-editor of International Summitry and Global Governance: the Rise of the G-7 and the European Council, 1974-1991 (with Federico Romero, Routledge 2014). His work has appeared in Business History, Cold War History, Contemporary European History, Diplomacy & Statecraft, JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies, and West European Politics, among others. You can find more information on his personal website.

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