The financial crisis has not only changed Europe, it has also influenced German Chancellor Merkel's alliance policies. Instead of focussing on Paris, Merkel is establishing a broad network of ties.
Germany and France celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty in 2013. German President Joachim Gauck had nothing but praise for the German-French friendship, saying he knows of no other "two countries that have such a tightly-knit and permanently strong network of personal and institutional relations." Gauck's gracious words couldn't hide the fact, however, that relations on the government level have been frosty for years. In an interview last year with DW, even former French Prime Minister Alain Juppé conceded that French-German cooperation is not always a bed of roses: "We have conflicts."
Chancellor Merkel and French President François Hollande strongly differ in their views on economic and budget policies. Merkel focuses on competitiveness and globalization, while Hollande has pinned his hopes on seclusion and state economic stimulus programs. Germany has clearly strengthened its status, while France has fallen behind.
This week, Hollande finally announced a stunning new direction for French economic policies, with measures including public spending cuts and tax relief for business. The German government is now closely watching for action to follow the president's words: France's economic frailty is problematic for Berlin, which lacks a strong partner in Europe. While Germany has steadily assumed a leadership role in the crisis, it has been accused of acting too strongly on its own.
Highly respected in Poland
There are indications that Merkel has been diversifying her choice of European partners.
She seeks close ties with the Polish government, and might suggest Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk for a top EU position. The poor relations between Germany and France are part of the reason that "Germany is looking for other partners in the European Union – and Poland fits the pattern," according to Bartosz Dudek, the head of DW's Polish desk. Merkel consistently ranks top in Polish opinion polls on foreign politicians, and Tusk and Merkel are also close on a personal and political level, Dudek says.
Polandis not only the most important country in East-Central Europe – it also survived the crisis well, according to Dudek.
But Germany is by no means trying to replace France, Janis Emmanouilidis says, adding that alliance can't be replaced. Germany merely needs "additional strategic relations," the political scientist at the Brussels-based European Policy Centre explains.
Cameron's private visit
Largely unnoticed by the public, Merkel is also reaching out to the British government and its conservative leader, David Cameron. Last year, Merkel and her husband invited Cameron and his entire family for a private weekend – a rare honor Hollande is still waiting for
Inviting Cameron was logical, British EU lawmaker Martin Callanan says. Merkel and Cameron share similar political views, Callanan told DW – and that has consequences for Europe. "The UK and Germany are increasingly taking over joint leadership in northern Europe, while France is turning into a spiritual leader for southern Europe," said Callanan. "France and Germany may be geographical neighbors, but where ideology is concerned, they certainly aren't neighbors anymore."
Janis Emmanouilidis warns that cooperation between Berlin and London has its limits because London is maneuvering itself offside. "London is important, but a relationship with Paris is more important, and compromises have to be found above all with France if you want to advance issues on the European level."
Unlike some of her predecessors, Merkel just isn't focused exclusively and unconditionally on France. The German Chancellor's alliance policies are more complex and diversified; depending on the situation, alliances are liable to change. One thing is clear, however: dramatic changes in Germany's European policies are not on the horizon during Merkel's third term in office.