Friday, 25 May 2012

Will the Kermits be left at the altar again?

In 1956 French Prime Minister Guy Mollet met with his British counterpart Anthony Eden, with Norman Brooke note-taking. The French proposal was astonishing; full union between France and Britain, with Elizabeth II as Head of State. Alternatively, Mollet asked, could France become a Commonwealth member, with joint citizenship rights on the Irish-UK model?

The Quai d'Orsay moved rapidly to deny the existence of its own records when the marriage proposal became public in 2007. No suitor with France's hubris likes to be known to have been spurned. After Eden's rejection, France turned its love-interest elsewhere - across her Eastern border - and the Treaty of Rome was born.

After living together for fifty years, France is once again looking for a ring on her finger. She's not as young as she was, and the liabilities and fears of old age are upon her. She wants a trip to the altar whilst she's still got some style and chic, before her looks go completely. The problem is her partner; while she's grown old, he's matured into a stable and powerful prospect, wealthy, outgrowing his borders and entranced by younger, fresher nations to the East; a lithe-limbed Poland in micro-skirt and heels, the cute cheeky-girl Balt twins, the sultry Balkans girls. None with the class and style of his partner, of course, but maybe more fun, though he'd have to watch his wallet. Now Steven Erlanger of the NYT, writing last year, speculated that France may be left at the altar a second time;
FRANCE AND GERMANY, with their shared bloody past, are unlikely allies, and they have radically different notions of how Europe should work. France wants a state-dominated, centralized, bureaucratic Europe in its own image. France also maintains a Mediterranean attitude toward budget deficits, having last balanced a budget 35 years ago. Germany, a federal state with powerful regions, coalition governments and an influential constitutional court, wants a Europe of laws, discipline and fiscal probity, with a strong currency and real penalties for the spendthrift

Long the financier of the European Union, Germany has made it clear that it will no longer pay for the mistakes and frauds of others. While Germany has always acted in its own interests, the Kohl generation interpreted those interests as being embedded in institutions like NATO and the European Union, which protected the new democratic Germany and kept its ambitions in check. But Germany, reunited, sees NATO as less necessary, even hollow. It needs the European Union less. And it is turning more toward the east — the old Soviet bloc and Russia — for energy and markets.

As the euro crisis grinds on and the German economy continues to outpace the others, Sarkozy is paying more attention to the German model and giving in more to German demands. He is extremely anxious, aides say, that France is losing its prominence in the new Europe, slipping behind Germany to second-class status. Inside the French cabinet, Germany’s economic model, labor relations and capacity for technical innovation are prominent topics, with German standards — and the fear of losing Paris’s AAA bond rating — driving French reforms and budget cuts.

The cliché used to be that nothing happened in the European Union without French and German agreement. Today France and Germany are regarded as necessary but no longer sufficient. Sarkozy fears, with some justification in a bigger European Union of 27 nations and a euro zone of 17, that French agreement may soon not be needed at all. The new E.U. members to the east are more German in their aspirations than French. The Czechs and Slovaks, as well as the Balts, are all fiscally conservative. Even Poland, which has such an emotional tie to France, sees its economic future with Germany.

“The Germans have discovered that they are the only serious global economy in Europe, capable of competing with the United States and China,” says John Kornblum, a former American ambassador to Germany. “But they’re afraid their world is coming apart around them, and what they thought would support them, the European Union, is dragging them down. They realized that the stability pact isn’t working, that the Greeks were lying and maybe others, too, that their banks and French banks were deep in the muck, and they understood this is going to cost a lot of money. So they are behaving in a very demanding way, which smells to some like nationalism. But it really is fear.”

With Germany ascendant and looking both inward and eastward, Britain staying out of the euro zone and France carrying less weight, the question of German leadership is now at the fore. Germany has traditionally avoided trying to lead Europe from the front; memories from World War II, though faded, have not yet gone away in the rest of the continent. Even now, anti-German feeling is rising among Greeks, Portuguese and Spaniards, who feel abandoned, even betrayed, by Berlin.


Richard said...

Of course, the British unilaterally aborting the Suez campaign, without reference to the French, might have had something to do with Mollet turning to Adenauer who, famously, advised his French colleague: "make Europe your revenge".

In the context, the common market negotiations had stalled, and the British were working on the idea of a free trade area as an alternative: "Plan G". That Mollet should have looked for something closer is not altogether unlikely.

But the relationship continued into October, with Mollet meeting Macmillan on 23 October, on Suez. It was not until November, after the British "betrayal" that relations broke down.

DeeDee99 said...

Thank goodness Eden did something right.

Nick Drew said...

I very much like your History Corner series, Mr R

Edward Spalton said...

For the German approach to Russia,
see Horst Teubert's 2008 peper
in the European Voices section on

His argument bears out what you say.

Budgie said...

Will the Kermits be left at the altar again?

I wish.

G. Tingey said...

ALso, the then politicians could see the approach of De Gaulle, and this was a way of stopping it.
As usual, everything the vile Eden touched turned to shit.
The worst PM since Lord North ....

What a screw-up!

Edward Spalton said...

By most accounts, Eden had been a pretty good Foreign Secretary - although I haven't read enough to have an informed opinion.

Churchill held on for far too long and really treated him very badly. He kept him as "the coming man" for a very long time. So he was a bit like a matinee idol but not given the starring role until he was too decrepit for it.

By the time he got his turn at being Prime Minister, he was a very sick man and that certainly must have affected his judgement.

The Suez debacle certainly hastened the understanding between France & Germany which enabled the founding of the EEC. At that stage and in its first form with each state having a veto, it could have developed into the "Europe des Patries", envisaged by De Gaulle who just didn't bother to turn up for summits, if the agenda didn't suit him.

De Gaulle did us a great favour in keeping us out but the French relaxed their objections when it was realised that a mug would be needed to pay for the Common Agricultural Policy.

Anonymous said...

check your facts.
Who is the new french president since May 6th?