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.