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Military

Opinion: France, Germany reconcile in Central African Republic operation

The EU has agreed to a joint military mission in the Central African Republic. The decision brings the governments in Berlin and Paris back together again, says Christoph Hasselbach.

Lately the French government hasn't been too pleased with its German counterparts when it comes to security policy in Africa. Germany has stayed out of the Libya mission thus far and only reluctantly participated in a mission to Mali. And at the EU summit in Brussels late last year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel made it clear that Germany would neither provide troops nor financial support for an operation in the Central African Republic, which the French had initiated. According to Merkel, Europeans could only support and lead such a mission if the decision had been made together. French president Francois Hollande was largely isolated in his desire to find money for the cause after the fact. Some even accused France pulling Europe along as it asserted its own interests in Africa; the domestic political rewards of peace-keeping would be reaped by Hollande alone.

Swift results

The French have always been right about one crucial point: It's all about speed. Without the hasty French intervention in Mali, Islamist rebels would have taken the capital, Bamako. Swift action was also crucial in the Central African Republic. And in many parts of western Africa the French are, from a practical standpoint, the only ones ready to engage in such operations. In many countries throughout the region they are permanently present in small regiments, which can easily be strengthened. Such acute cases simply can't wait for the lengthy decision-making process in the EU. Unlike its European counterparts, France is politically willing to risk a military operation, which leads to accusations of "neo-colonialism." At the same rate, however, the French soldiers are protecting African civilians while reducing the threat of Islamic extremist terror in Europe.

Combat personnel or transport aircraft

Now the discussion has come to a political head. Germany's new foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, seems to be showing more sympathy for the French position than his predecessor, Guido Westerwelle. Even Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen is seeking solidarity with Paris. France has agreed to a more Euro-centric approach in its latest mission in Africa. Nevertheless, Berlin won't be sending combat troops to Mali nor the Central African Republic.

Now, the question is about logistical support. Can the Germans get away with supplying just a few aircraft here and a few training personnel there? For years Germany has been the economic and political powerhouse on the European stage, while France continues to lag further behind. France, nevertheless, isn't too keen on listening to Berlin's accusations of lack of competitiveness while French soldiers fight on the frontlines in Africa. These prescribed roles won't last forever.

European crises management

Undoubtedly the best thing for all parties involved is a common European approach, which would cover everything from combat troops and humanitarian aid to the establishment of stable state structures in crises countries. For this, however, there's a lack of precedence: The opinions regarding the necessity, extent and type of operations completely diverge from each other. The EU needs to be better prepared for such combat missions. Up to this point, the EU has reacted with complete surprised at every coup, every rebel attack. For the foreseeable future, it seems that France and Britain will feel the need to remain the combat muscle while their European partners assist in the follow-up efforts.

The value of the latest German-French approach is the approach itself. Socialist Hollande recently announced a change of course in economic policy largely reflective of German policy. As a result, the German side not only breathed a sigh of relief, but also saw the necessity to support France in security matters. This French-German partnership, long considered dead, will pave the decisions of the future.

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