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Franco-German cooperation is reborn from the ashes?

by Harald Greib
25/01/2003

We always talked about it and often:

this cooperation between two countries that had overcome their so-called hereditary antagonisms after three wars in less than a century, a cooperation that had made it possible to begin the path towards a peaceful, prosperous and united Europe.

France and Germany were the driving forces behind European integration.

For 25 years, it was talked about with admiration, perhaps sometimes mixed with a hint of jealousy on the part of other countries, which only had to accept the compromises found between these two great European countries.

But at the beginning of the 1990s, the tone changed: the good understanding that gave way to “quarrels” at European summits was over; to mention only the appointment of the President of the European Central Bank at a European Council in Brussels where France wanted, at all costs, to impose its own candidate against the candidate supported by all the other countries.

After these disagreements, always and again the reunion at the Franco-German summits or around a sauerkraut in Blaesheim in Alsace, after the debacle at the Nice summit and his German Chancellor annoyed with the Chirac style of negotiation. But the Blaesheim process (ah, what a sense of formula of our dear diplomats who know how to give a historical character even to a few dirty dishes and a salty addition) ended before its illustrious protagonists returned to their capitals: no agreement on anything, no idea on a common objective, especially not in European politics.

It had to be said that something had broken in the engine.

The accident occurred in the run-up to German reunification, when an aging French president panicked and flew to Moscow to convince Gorbachev to oppose reunification. The German leaders experienced this act as the betrayal of an ally, worse, a friend.

The Maastricht Treaty which followed this period and which set in motion a new phase of deepening European integration was due to the speed at which the European car was travelling when the engine broke: Maastricht was the direct result of reunification and the pledge that Helmut Kohl had to give to François Mitterand in order to obtain his approval from a united Germany.

This is followed by the intergovernmental conferences prior to the Amsterdam and Nice Treaties, which, for lack of the driving force, only give birth to mice: the Commission finds itself with a few more competences, but the European construction does not become more political, and consequently, considering the new competences of the Community, which now decides far from the citizens on such sensitive issues as immigration, increases its democratic deficit.

It is mainly Germany that is absent from the European scene.

On the one hand, it is trying to achieve its regained unity and, on the other hand, is rediscovering its destiny as a transatlantic (again, what diplomatic meaning of formula, we must think about it) rather than a European one. She is entering a beauty contest for the title of most valuable ally of the US in Europe, against the United Kingdom. And she was, perhaps, finally tired of being the horse of a wagon driven by France, to use only one of General de Gaulle’s famous words.

And most recently, a new turning point: France and Germany are once again united to oppose the American war strategy against Saddam Hussein.

Its new turn is – is it historical? It is better to doubt it. It is more the result of an ad hoc alliance, an agreement on a detail, than the result of a well-considered strategy. The agreement reached will not survive the end of the Iraqi crisis.

One only has to look closely at the compromise on the future of the European Union to be convinced: the two partners were able to agree that the EU should now have two presidents, one from the Commission and the other elected by the European Council. Okay, the new Europe will have two presidents, we will have understood this part of the compromise, but two presidents to do what, exactly? Well, to continue to ensure that the European Union remains absent from the international political scene, in the absence of agreement on the essential issues of the future of the common foreign policy, the political and state character of the EU, the balance between Europe’s respective roles and the nation states. This is a compromise that only materialises all the differences in the views of the leaders of two countries on European policy. The new agreement will be as ephemeral as the compromise is superficial.

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