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Is Germany threatening France’s permanent seat in the UN Security Council?

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CheckNews, France

5 April 2019, Updated: 5 April 2019

A confusing statement by Angela Merkel is refocusing attention on this subject. The CDU, at the origin of the quarrel, tells CheckNews that it would like a European seat at the UN but that this does not mean France must lose its own.

This issue of a German seat at the UN, and a possible European seat, and the potential risks to the French seat, is a recurring theme in French debate since the Aachen Treaty, which in its time was a source of much spurious speculation.

No, the Aachen Treaty does not stipulate that France must lose or share its seat at the UN.

The treaty manifests Germany’s desire for French support in its demand for a reform of the UN Security Council. Such a reform would allow Germany a permanent seat alongside the victors of the Second World War already present (France, USA, UK, China and Russia). Other countries such as Brazil, Japan and India also claim a seat on the basis of their economic preeminence.

The subject is broached in the second section of the Aachen Treaty’s article 8: “The two countries undertake to continue their efforts to conclude intergovernmental negotiations on the reform of the United Nations Security Council. The admission of the Federal Republic of Germany as a permanent member of the Security Council is a priority of Franco-German diplomacy.”

There is no question, here, of France losing its seat.

Germany’s ambition for a European UN seat is nothing new. The coalition contract of March 2018 between the CDU, CSU and SPD synthesizes two aims: a permanent German seat, and a European one. “Germany desires to take on more responsibility in matters of peace and security, in particular by occupying a permanent seat at the Security Council. For the years 2019-20 we aspire to a non-permanent seat at the Security Council. For the future, our ambition is to obtain a permanent seat for the European Union.”

Angela Merkel’s phrase was as follows: “It is well known that France is very sceptical about the idea of a European seat at the United Nations. For many years the [German] government adopted the position whereby we desire our own seat. But it can also easily be said – and it is what [the European UN seat has] in common – that European voices should be grouped within the UN Security Council and thus converted into a European seat.”

Merkel’s statement is unclear. Intentionally, according to Stefan Seidendorf, a specialist in Franco-German relations contacted by CheckNews: “It is a tactical move to avoid having to talk about the substance of the obvious contradiction. The German government’s strategy is firstly to obtain a German seat, then to wait and see.” Merkel is also silent about the implications for France of a European seat, choosing only to mention Paris’s scepticism about a European seat.

Why did AFP write that the European seat wanted by Germany aims to “make France’s one disappear”?

However, at no point did Merkel say that the European seat must be obtained to the detriment of France, as the news agency AFP wrote in a brief.

CheckNews contacted Yacine Le Forestier, director of the Berlin bureau and author of the text in question, to ascertain what sources he had used when asserting that the European seat wanted by Merkel would “make France’s one disappear”.

The journalist maintains that “the chancellor is indeed talking of a common European seat into which France would be merged”. He is also using past declarations, notably one by the “German minister of finance, Olaf Scholz, which, a few months ago, clearly proposed that France’s seat disappear”.

It is true that, during a speech in Berlin on 28 November, the vice-chancellor and finance minister, Olaf Scholz, proposed that “in the medium term, France’s seat could be transformed into an EU seat”. This suggestion received a cold reception in France: Gérard Araud, French ambassador to the United States, reminded Germany that this “is legally impossible because against the United Nations charter. Changing the charter would be politically impossible”. This impossibility was already known to Germany: it featured in a question-and-answer session published by the German foreign ministry in July 2018.

German government evasive, but CDU more transparent

Is this position shared by German diplomats? CheckNews asked the chancellor’s press service several times, without receiving a clear response.

But from the CDU CheckNews obtained a very clear response. The CDU claims that the party’s objective of a European seat does not threaten France’s seat.

Nico Lange, a close political adviser of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (Angela Merkel’s successor as leader of the CDU), gave a clear response to CheckNews: the CDU does not wish for France to transform or give up its permanent seat to the EU. “Many experts believe that the probability of Germany obtaining a permanent seat is lower than that of Europe obtaining a supplementary seat. Under this model, France would not need to renounce its permanent seat in favor of the EU”, he said.

Nico Lange adds that the model envisaged for a European seat “would be to have one seat for France, one for Great Britain and one for the EU. In parallel, a European Security Council, including Great Britain, would coordinate European positions on security policy”.

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