German Chancellor Angela Merkel was “uncharacteristically furious” and berated French President Emmanuel Macron at a dinner celebrating the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall after he publicly announced NATO’s “brain death”, The New York Times reports.
According to the outlet, Merkel, one of the world’s most powerful politicians, had a one-on-one with her French counterpart, who also happened to be the only one to have vetoed starting membership talks for North Macedonia to join the European Union, although the country has met the bloc’s requirements.
“I understand your desire for disruptive politics. But I’m tired of picking up the pieces. Over and over, I have to glue together the cups you have broken so that we can then sit down and have a cup of tea together”, Merkel reportedly said.
In his turn, Macron reportedly fought back by insisting that he could not head to the upcoming NATO gathering outside London while remaining silent about the US and Turkey’s actions in Syria.
“I cannot sit there and act like nothing has happened”, he reportedly claimed.
Angela Merkel has already publicly objected to Macron’s description of the alliance as “brain dead”, saying that “the French president has found rather drastic words to express his views”.
“This is not how I see the state of cooperation at NATO”, she said, adding that “NATO remains a cornerstone of our security”.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also warned that “it would be a mistake if we undermined NATO”.
“Without the United States, neither Germany nor Europe will be able to effectively protect themselves”, Maas argued.
A New Low for Franco-German Cooperation?
The New York Times cited Claudia Major, a security analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, saying that she has not seen Franco-German relations “at such a low point in a very long time” as well as such bitterness and misunderstanding”.
Although Merkel has in step with Macron previously pushed the idea of creating a joint European army and boosted cooperation between the two countries, a senior French official told the US newspaper that France’s president had “misread” his German partner, as he had hoped that she would work to create a lasting historical legacy for a united Europe during her last term. He is said to “feel almost betrayed”, because while he is trying to advance the strategic proposals, Merkel is acting cautiously given the discord within her government coalition. Macron is said to be becoming “increasingly impatient”, as in Germany the Social Democrats are blocking his security plans, while Merkel’s Christian Democrats are hindering a reform of the Eurozone.
Crack Within NATO
Although many privately agree with Macron on his evaluation of Donald Trump’s unpredictability and politics towards Turkey, as The New York Times reports, others have publicly lambasted the French president for his outspoken criticism in the interview.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who is reportedly traveling to Paris next week to discuss with Macron his remark questioning the validity of Article Five, earlier rejected the French president’s assumption and urged the US and Europe to "work together more than we have done for decades". Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also responded to Macron’s “dangerous” claims that NATO is brain dead, saying that the military bloc is “the most important alliance in the world when it comes to preserving freedom and peace”.
Macron’s bombshell remarks came amid NATO officials’ reported struggle to prepare a joint statement ahead of the alliance’s 70th anniversary that would recommit the allies to more military spending. While Paris is said to be insisting on outlining a new strategic review of NATO’s mission, as the 2010 version is considered outdated, most members prefer to postpone the debate about the fundamental matter until after the 2020 US election.
Apart from this, the US newspaper points out that the allies are concerned that the French president is considering proposing the creation of a nuclear deterrence based on Europe in order to be less dependent on the US.
After his “brain dead” remark, reports emerged that France had called on fellow EU member states to boost the bloc’s defence readiness in order to become more independent from NATO's protection and improve the so-called assistance clause, Article 42 (7) of the EU Treaty, which obliges other states to provide the utmost support in case of an attack on one of them.
According to Paris, the required measures are intended to provide security for countries like Sweden and Finland, which are not in NATO, as well as Cyprus, Malta, Austria, and Ireland, in case of an attack.
NATO’s European member states should also be able to rely on support if the alliance is unable to defend them under Article 5, for example, in case of a veto by the US or Turkey.
The plans echoed calls made by Macron and Merkel last year that the EU should have a “real European army” independent of the United States and NATO in order to be able to defend itself from alleged threats emanating from Washington, Beijing, and Moscow. Eventually, Berlin and Paris started to build a joint aircraft and combat system and invited other European states to join.