Disunity in the European Union

by John Moore

The growing tensions between EU countries reveals the true disharmony at the heart of the Union. Below are some of the main areas of dispute:


France is under pressure from Germany to give up its permanent seat on the UN Security Council and convert it into a European Union seat. Nuclear-armed France has been one of the five permanent Security Council members since 1945 – along with the US, China, Russia (formerly the Soviet Union) and Britain. Germany wants to take its place at the world’s top table, using the cloak of the EU to disguise its national ambitions. German finance minister Olaf Scholz has offered France the position of permanent EU ambassador to the United Nations as a sop to get it to agree. But France is guarding its Security Council position jealously – with the French Embassy in Washington saying that adopting the proposal would violate the UN Charter.


Meanwhile, Angela Merkel’s successor as CDU leader, Anna Kramp-Karrenbauer, has rejected Emanuel Macron’s call for closer EU integration – contradicting Germany’s call for a single EU seat at the UN. Kramp-Karrenbauer argues in Die Welt am Sonntag that “European centralism, European statism, the communitisation of debts, the Europeanisation of social systems, and the minimum wage would be the wrong approach.” Germany fears Macron might give away further reforms to try to buy off the ongoing protests in France. In doing so, France would be letting the EU austerity side down.


A defence export agreement between France and Germany to produce joint weapons systems – principally a new combat tank and a fighter plane – is under threat after Germany halted arms exports to Saudi Arabia following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. This move threatens French/British/Italian Eurofighter sales of jointly produced weapons to the Saudis. One French official said: “We are basically betting the future of the French defence industry on co-operation with Germany… What we do not agree to is that Germany decides unilaterally for us.” France, which regards itself as a world military power, is determined to resist any impediment to its global role.

Underlying these tensions is the fact that Germany clearly dominates the rest of Europe and has been the biggest beneficiary of the Euro by far, according to a recent study by the Centre for European Policy Studies, which estimates that Germany earned €1.9 trillion from adopting the Euro in its first 20 years. The equivalent move has cost France €3.6 trillion and Italy €4.3 trillion.


France has reacted angrily to a Dutch government decision to take a 13% stake in the Dutch KLM airline. French airline Air France and KLM merged in 2004. France says the Netherlands is acting like a corporate raider. The row is linked to the fierce competition between the two countries over airport business. Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, which is continental Europe’s second busiest airport, wants to overtake the leader, Paris Charles de Gaulle airport.

ITALY vs EU part 1

Italy has held non-binding talks with China about joining the huge Chinese belt-and-road infrastructure project. The project includes the building of a high-speed rail link to the east from Italy via the Balkans and expanding four major Italian ports. Such a move would give Italy, which is in near-zero growth, much needed inward investment from China. The belt-and-road initiative is already building projects in eastern Europe and most recently Portugal. But so far Italy is the only G7 country to involve itself.

Both Manfred Weber, leader of the conservative group in the EU parliament, and German foreign minister Heiko Maas have issued warnings against too close a relationship between EU countries and China. Italy’s two deputy prime ministers – Di Maio of the populist 5 Star movement and Salvini of the harder right Lega Nord – are at odds over the deal. Eurosceptic Di Maio wants to press ahead, whereas Salvini fears alienating the EU and the US by moving closer to China.

The deal, if signed, would mark an advance for Chinese influence in Europe, and a setback for the US and Germany.

ITALY vs EU part 2

Italy is diverging from the EU over policy in Syria, where it is seeking a negotiated settlement with President Assad. In contrast, France, Germany, and the UK are taking a tough anti-Assad line. Southern European countries through which most refugees have been passing over the past eight years believe an Assad reconstruction of Syria would be the best way of reducing the number of refugees. One Italian diplomat said: “If you want the refugees to leave, if you want to stop the second wave of refugees… then you need to deal with the Syrian government.”

Also on the refugee issue, Italy has insisted on a suspension of EU naval patrols in the Mediterranean, in protest over its unfair share of migrants, with no other countries opening up their ports to migrants. The EU has agreed to suspend the patrols – handing out a potential death sentence to thousands of desperate people.

ITALY vs FRANCE part 1

Italian-French relations have sunk to their lowest point “since the end of the Second World War” according to one French official. This was after Italian deputy prime minister Salvini met with French "yellow vest" protesters and directly criticized Macron, saying: "I hope the French will be able to free themselves from a terrible president.” In February this year, France withdrew its ambassador in protest. The row began when Italy accused France of returning migrants to Italy and not helping with the costs of migrant arrivals.


Another dispute centres on Libya, where France backs the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army, under General Haftar, which controls the areas of Total oil production. Italy, on the other hand, backs the rival Tripoli-based Government of National Accord – which controls the areas exploited by the Italian-backed National Oil Co of Libya.

ITALY vs FRANCE part 3

France and Italy are also in dispute over the construction of a major EU infrastructure project, a Lyon to Turin high-speed rail link, joining two of Europe’s most economically important regions. Italy is stalling because of the high costs involved, with the Eurosceptic deputy prime minister Di Maio of 5 Star expressing doubts, while the more pro-EU Salvini supports the scheme.


Germany is refusing to follow the UK (and US) in outlawing Hezbollah’s political wing. This should be understood in the context of German attempts to work around US sanctions against Iran. As Iran’s biggest European trading partner with exports worth €3.5 billion in 2017 – though now falling due to US pressure – Germany is leading the European drive to keep the Iran nuclear deal alive. It is setting up a new mechanism to allow financial flows to be sent to Iran that would not violate US sanctions. This special-purpose financial vehicle will allow European firms to use barter with Iran, and concentrate on areas not covered by US sanctions – such as pharmaceuticals and agri-business.


Finally, the growing intensity of Germany’s disputes with the US reveals its serious ambitions on the global stage (see its UN claim, above) – further destabilising the EU.

The vice speaker of the German parliament, deputy leader of the Free Democrat Party, Wolfgang Kubicki, has called for the expulsion of US ambassador Richard Grenell for his threats to apply sanctions against German companies participating in the Nordstream 2 pipeline deal with Russia and against continuing German-Iranian trade. Germany is nonetheless pressing ahead with its Nordstream project which is costing €11 billion in construction and is 70% complete. Germany needs energy security, and is using the two Russian pipelines, Nordstream 2 and Turkstream to get it. In direct contradiction, France has recently supported a European Union directive to severely restrict the pipeline project.        

The US is also threatening to reduce German access to classified security information because of Huawei's bid to supply Germany's 5G networks. The US argues that software updates would allow Chinese security services access to European information. If Germany were to allow Huawei to build its 5G network, US security agencies would work on the assumption that any information they transmit would end up in Chinese hands. But Germany needs Huawei for its 5G infrastructure, so is likely to press ahead anyway. (Britain, meanwhile, is currently claiming that it would be too high a security risk to use Huawei products, i.e. siding with the US). These German-US disputes are clearly adding to the tensions within the EU.

They also come as part of the widening gap between the EU and the US over trade and NATO spending. At a security conference in Munich last year German foreign minister Heiko Maas said that Europe faced a choice: “Subject or object of world politics—this is the crucial issue of the future confronting Europe.”