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When will the British stop trying to split France and Germany?

by Jerome a Paris Fri Sep 16th, 2005 at 10:29:08 AM EST

The German elections have set off a new round of speculation that the Franco-German relationship will be weakened by the (still) likely change of chancellor in Germany.

It's the same thing each time:

EU chemistry likely to change if Merkel wins

For many of those involved in the day-to-day running of the European Union, the hope is that Gerhard Schröder is ousted from power on Sunday, removing one of the central players in the EU's debilitating psychodrama.


Whatever Tony Blair, British prime minister, might say publicly, his relationship with the chancellor he used to call "Gerd" has disintegrated beyond repair; the war in Iraq and the disputes over the EU constitution and budget have seen to that.

For the British presidency, the "defensive" relationship between Mr Schröder and French President Jacques Chirac is one of the main sources of tension in Europe and the focus of resistance to economic reform.

Although British diplomats do not expect Ms Merkel to weaken the Franco-German partnership and accept that she is at odds with London over Turkish EU membership, they expect her to revive ties with other countries (including the UK and the US) and prove a less willing accomplice to some of Mr Chirac's pet projects, such as EU tax harmonisation.

"The important thing is the atmospherics would change," said one British official. The orchestrated bashing of Mr Blair by Mr Schröder and Mr Chirac after the acrimonious EU summit in June suggests things cannot get much worse.

Any worse for whom? For Europe, or for the UK, which, today like always, seem to be two totally unrelated entities?

And yet the FT, in the same article, unwittingly gives the explanation of why this is just a pipe dream (for the UK):

Mr Chirac got off to a bad start with Mr Schröder, with whom he fell out at the Nice EU summit in 2000; the French president even awarded the Legion d'Honneur, France's highest honour, to Edmund Stoiber, Mr Schröder's rival in the 2002 elections.

But soon they found common cause on issues such as the Iraq war, the EU constitution, a desire to dismantle the EU's budgetary framework and a joint hostility towards Mr Blair's free market vision of Europe.

The Franco-German relationship seems certain to continue but the chemistry at the top may be about to change.

The Franco-German relationship works because the two countries have decided to make it work, and have decided that working together, even if it involves painful compromises at times, is more useful than not.

Chirac and Schroeder hated each other's guts after the Nice Treaty fiasco in 1999. (This was, of course, commented with glee in the same English language columns) But they understood that too much was at stake and they forced themselves to work together.

The UK has never shown any willingness to do the same. There are tactival alliances, and relationships that are more or less trusting, but no commitment to Europe in any way. Say what you will about France and Germany and their (very real) national egoism, but they HAVE repeatedly made compromises for the common good, and they have made the decision that cooperation was a good thing in itself - and that's pretty much the only thing holding Europe together, today.

So mock all you will, or say explicitly that your goal is to make Europe irrelevant and powerless, but don't dream about splitting France and Germany, because ity will not happen.

I find it interesting that the much of the US press and the UK press function as attack dogs for their respective regimes...they can barely contain their glee...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Fri Sep 16th, 2005 at 11:04:50 AM EST
Depressingly enough, in the UK it is almost the other way around, the press "tail" wags the government "dog" by keeping up an constant barrage of anti-EU (not to mention pro-neoliberal) noise.
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Fri Sep 16th, 2005 at 11:37:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
is not a "pet project". It's vital to save the European welfare systems.
by swedish liberal on Fri Sep 16th, 2005 at 11:26:16 AM EST
but you're not supposed to be against "reform"...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Sep 16th, 2005 at 11:52:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
not just, it is also fueled by a desire to keep jobs in the rich countries as a cursory look at the French referendum campaign shows.
by MarekNYC on Sat Sep 17th, 2005 at 03:40:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, rather than to send them to poor countries so that corporations can exploit people even harder.
by swedish liberal on Thu Sep 22nd, 2005 at 10:12:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
England got isolated from France the moment the last axe fell on the Battle of Hastings. 300 years later, the English were invading France and for their own good, no less. History shows this pattern goes back a long way...

People who speculate that the Franco-German axis will collapse are, pardon the severity of phrasing, blindsighted from reality (and history). It equals to hoping Canada and the USA would stop trading one day.

No one knows how the die will roll in the future, but I'd be interested as to how the fledging role of Italy could be drawn into the "mainland" Europe economy. Somehow, Italy hasn't really recovered from the sag in its economy, but if it would recover an axis formed by France-Germany-Italy would simply be fascinating.

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Fri Sep 16th, 2005 at 01:36:25 PM EST
Will end up on a wild goose chase. At least as far as anything that isn't very recent goes. Also I'm wondering just what that Franco-German (and perhaps Italian) axis would stand for. The French public has shown it is hostile to more integration. The German public isn't thrilled about being the EU's piggy bank. The Italians like to blame monetary union for their problems. This sounds like a recipe for default support for the status quo and nothing more.
by MarekNYC on Sat Sep 17th, 2005 at 03:57:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Interesting stats from a recent YouGuv poll of Britain. It tends to confirm what I know just from my (largely Tory) extended family. That "Atlanticism" - or moving Britain closer to the US and away from Europe - is more an elite game.

On the question, "Do you see yourself as closer to Europe or America?" (pretty straight forward) the results are as follows:

58% feel closer to Europe, 29% closer to America, and 14% don't know. There's internals in the link, too. Here is the Link. For the PDF, click on the results for 12/9/05.

This is not to say that the British population is Europhilic. But you can't trust the British press or political class here, either. They tend to have views that are surprisingly at odds, oftentimes, with the public at large.

by Ben P (wbp@u.washington.edu) on Fri Sep 16th, 2005 at 05:47:38 PM EST
to make sacrifices for the common good. The French want to keep the ridiculously high level of subsidies that their farmers get. Britain will not give up its rebate and pay its fair share into the budget.


by observer393 on Mon Sep 19th, 2005 at 01:56:01 AM EST

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