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Europe

Franco-German relations not at their best

Paris and Berlin don't see eye to eye on a major European topic: refugee policies. Whatever has happened to the much-touted Franco-German engine in the European Union?

Franco-German relations have been particularly poor lately when their respective political leaders in Paris and Berlin were most loudly praising them.

"There's considerable agreement between France and Germany," German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Monday in Berlin, while France's new foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, described the bilateral ties as "essential."

But, just before the praise rolled in on Monday, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls (pictured above) appeared to have gone out of his way at the Munich Security Conference to leave the impression that Berlin and Paris were, in fact, worlds apart.

Over the weekend, Valls declared that France would not participate in any further distribution of refugees across Europe, which is the German Chancellor's main objective. Merkel is keen to implement a permanent quota system. In an interview, Valls labeled Merkel's refugee policies "unsustainable in the long run." Light years, it seems, separate the prime minister's office and the chancellery in Berlin.

Domestic strife

At the moment, "there's no common ground, no common direction," according to conservative lawmaker Andreas Jung, who also chairs a Franco-German group of parliamentarians. "We really have to struggle to come up with common ground," he told DW.

Refugee shacks and tents in Calais

France plans to take in 30,000 refugees; thousands are already holed up in an illegal camp near Calais

"Asylum isn't just a German basic right, it is, in particular, a fundamental European value," Jung said. "It would be wrong for Europe to give up the union and its values for fear of rightwing populists."

"'We're not taking in any refugees' - that can't be the French attitude," Jung said, adding he hopes the Socialist government will stand up for these basic values, paving the way for a common route. One thing is clear, he said: "We urgently need common ground."

Clouds on the horizon

EU heads of state and government are scheduled to meet Thursday in Brussels. Angela Merkel hopes the summit will agree on strengthening EU external borders, and inch closer to a distribution system for refugees. Without French support? "Important initiatives are difficult when there's no Franco-German unity," conceded Eileen Keller of the German-French Institute in Ludwigsburg.

Sylvie Goulard

In the EU, nothing goes without France and Germany, says Sylvie Goulard

But Germany and France more or less agree on two individual aspects, Keller told DW. "Both stress the importance of securing the EU's external borders, and both are shouldering financial support for Turkey to ensure fewer refugees head to Europe."

The way things used to be

"Manuel Valls' statements are a reason for concern," said Sylvie Goulard, a member of the French "Mouvement democrate" in the European Parliament. It wasn't very clever of Valls to speak out so harshly in Germany against the Chancellor's demands, she told DW. "I recall that problems between Germany and France used to be discussed in a different manner," she argued, adding that now it takes diplomatic intervention to overcome the differences.

France, she said, should actually ponder how it can help Germany in the refugee question. Then again, Angela Merkel unilaterally decided on her open border policies, Goulard said. Franco-German ties have been under pressure from Berlin as well, she noted.

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