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Growing Imbalance Between Germany and France Strains Their Relationship


BERLIN - It was a clear illustration of the dysfunction of the French-

German partnership, the axis that for decades kept Europe on a united

and dynamic track.

In Berlin this month, Chancellor Angela Merkel, riding high after

nine years in power, delivered a strident defense in Parliament of

austerity, which she has been pushing on Europe ever since a debt crisis

broke out in 2009.

But if the message was familiar, on that day it seemed to have a

deliberate target: France, Germany's No. 1 ally, whose government had

just waged a vociferous backlash against her program, and said that it

would not meet European Union deficit goals until 2017.

That rhetorical volley was the latest example of how far the

partners have drifted apart. While their formal relationship remains

close, the power balance has shifted sharply since Europe's debt crisis

erupted, raising doubts about their ability to continue their traditional

role of together leading Europe in new economic and political


The two countries are in such different places - economically,

socially and politically - that the vaunted partnership teeters on the

verge of a breakdown, analysts warn.

"The problem is that the relationship has become deeply

unbalanced," said Dominique Moïsi, a senior adviser at the French

Institute for International Relations. "The French and Germans are not

playing in the same league any longer, and the overall equilibrium of

Europe was depending on a relatively balanced relationship, which no

longer exists."

Just last year, France and Germany were celebrating the 50th

anniversary of their agreement to bury centuries of hostility and

cooperate more closely than almost any other independent nations.

But the French economy has grown stagnant,