It is true that France and Germany, despite the inevitable condemnation of the invasion, have in any case maintained open channels with Russia, arguing the need to leave exit routes to avoid Russia’s total humiliation. It is also true that they have been sparing in their aid to Ukraine: according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, as of October 3, in terms of total aid Germany was ranked third overall, but only 16th in proportion to its GDP, while France was seventh overall – giving nearly two-thirds less than Poland – and 21st in terms of its GDP. In terms of armaments, France has promised less aid than Australia and even Estonia and Latvia. This cautious distinction from the anti-Russian hawks could allow Paris and Berlin to re-enter the game in the event of peace negotiations, but, even in this case, this would only be possible if the United States authorized or even pushed them to do so (i.e. without recovering those margins of “strategic autonomy” with respect to Washington that the two European capitals had more or less carved out for themselves in the past years).
Energy diplomacy, which had been the cornerstone of German Ostpolitik since the 1970s (and, conversely, a rock in America’s shoe), is practically dead. This is perhaps America’s greatest achievement and the biggest headache for Berlin, not only for political reasons but also for immediate economic reasons. For Paris, the defeat is twofold, on the Atlantic front and on the European front; on the latter, the shift of the center of gravity towards the Baltic (and therefore towards the countries closest to the United States), is accompanied by a new imbalance in its complicated relationship with Germany. Some interested (i.e. French) observers have pointed out that a shift of the center of gravity towards the East harms France more than Germany: the former risks being sucked towards the Mediterranean while the latter sees instead a revaluation of its traditional sphere of influence. Following this logic, one could read the recent anti-German request for WW2 compensation by Poland as a pre-emptive move against a possibly strengthened Germany (let us remember though that Poland can hardly make a move without the agreement of the United States).
In the background of all this stands China, which, regardless of Russia’s intentions, lies at the heart of the whole game. For Americans, Russia has traditionally been of relative importance: it has been most useful as a wedge to divide Europeans (as during the Cold War) and in this sense, Putin and his cohorts have managed to do more and better for the United States than successive American administrations have managed to do in the last thirty years (with the exception, perhaps, of the 2003 war). China, on the other hand, is a strategic competitor against which Washington is deploying all its weapons (political, ideological, diplomatic, military and economic) to the point of making the decoupling project – the reduction of dependence on Chinese products and supply chains – a strategic line not only internally, but also internationally, pushing its alleged friends and allies to follow suit. But these alleged friends and allies have different interests: not only has China now become the first trading partner of the European Union and not only have European investments in China continued to increase, but Germany alone represents 43% of these investments in the last four years, and France around 10%. Economic and political reasons should therefore “naturally” push Berlin and Paris to claim “strategic autonomy” in the Indo-Pacific but, since this “strategic autonomy” can no longer be claimed in Europe, the idea of doing so in Asia has now become a fantasy. This is even more true if Berlin and Paris are fighting among themselves to decide, albeit too late, who represents Europe at a historic juncture in which Europe is actually being represented by Washington. To try to get out of it in one piece, Macron can try to make nice with Biden but, if he is to have any hope of convincing the American president, he will need an unabridged and un-humiliated Russia to resume that balancing game in which Paris has been training over the past one hundred and thirty years.