Sunday

25th Sep 2022

Opinion

FrancoGermans at the forefront

For the first time since the creation of Germany in 1870/71, the French and the Germans have found themselves on the same side, in the front line, at the time of a major international crisis. Not only were they together, but they were also defending a position which turns out to have reflected the opinion of a vast majority of Europeans, from Romania to Ireland - a position that, day by day, incrementally appears more justified: as it is not countered by any sound arguments that legitimize the war against Iraq.

For every observer of the European integration process, the phenomenon that this historic partnership between the French and Germans represents should not be under-estimated. This is in part because it constitutes a major phenomenon in contemporary European history, and in part also as it is part of a crucial international evolution.

A major threshold in European integration is passed

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What happened in these last months between France and Germany is not an accident of history, nor an isolated event. On the contrary, it manifests a political reality which goes beyond the elites and leaders, involves the people, and which builds on the process started in the fifties, then symbolized by the European Community and the Elysée Treaty.

It is no coincidence that this acceleration of Franco-German integration is taking place at the same time as the Community project is entering into a new phase in its own history - that of governing a united Europe, and no longer that of building one (with the draft European Constitution, and the conclusion of the vague principle of enlargement). Franco-German relations, like the Community project are simultaneously negotiating the consequences of both the European Coal and Steel Community (initiated in 1951) and the fall of the Berlin Wall (in 1989).

The background of FrancoGermany

The return of politics on the European scene

But let us look at what has produced the current state of affairs: a political and democratic phenomenon. It is the political leaders at the highest level, Schroeder and Chirac, and the citizens who have opened the path to the future.

The former, badly prepared, have often had to feel their way, following their instincts as extraordinary tacticians (as they both are) before starting to understand that they were "making history" in the same way as their predecessors De Gaulle and Adenauer did with the Elysée Treaty, Giscard and Schmidt with the monetary snake, or Kohl and Mitterand with the Euro. However, this time, a new actor is also part of the game: public opinion.

No previous stage of Franco-German relations was pushed for by the people. On the contrary, the political and economic elites were the driving forces, sometimes in the face of profound public doubt. This time, it is possible to say that the people have contributed as much, if not more to the crossing of a new threshold.

There is no doubt that Schroeder and Chirac are politicians preoccupied with winning elections – but very few politicians within democracies wish to lose them. That they followed their public opinions is certain, and in a democracy there is nothing shocking in this. The recurrent affirmations in recent months that Jose Maria Aznar or Kazniewsky are really major Statesmen because they did the opposite of what their citizens wanted, or that they avoid parliamentary debates on subjects where they risk being put in difficulty seems very doubtful…

And the meaning of European integration returns

Naturally, the fact that Schroeder left Chirac to speak in the name of Germany at a recent European summit was purely symbolic, and clever public relations. But who conducts politics without PR? And who makes history without symbolism? Moreover, to be meaningful the symbolism must be backed by a certain reality: and that was certainly the case in this European summit. After all, if it were that simple to do, why did other German or French leaders not do this before?

This shows an important change: it did not happen before because then the people of these countries would have not understood it. Now all you need to do is to talk with the people from these two lands, and everybody understands what it means: in being together for the first time in a major crisis, France and Germany have crossed a new threshold, starting to close the gap that opened so bloodily at the time of German unification in 1870/71. One would have to be blind to the feelings of people, and to their collective memories not to understand the importance of this change.

If this is so insignificant, why do Messrs. Berlusconi and Aznar or Blair and Aznar not do the same? After all, these are three past-masters at public relations.

The reality is that this Franco-German symbolism is now becoming a part of the everyday facts of power politics and that in the view of younger generations, those who will start to replace the baby-boomers from 2005 onwards, this is not be something that the will reverse.

Or is there a supreme manipulator in the tandem? Some see Schroeder in this role, using France and its dreams of greatness in order to affirm the political maturity of Germany vis-à-vis the United States in order tomorrow to build a new US-German relationship on the global level and thence to obtain a seat on the Security Council of a reformed UN?

Others put Chirac in this role, using Schroeder, and German pacifism to serve French goals that aim to "boot America out of Europe" (Chirac in that case would be a hybrid of Joan of Ark and Machiavelli … quite an act) in order to dominate the continent (indeed the world!).

The German and French peoples would in this scenario be pure by-standers, unable to identify their interests or unable to influence the agendas of others who are purely egotistically motivated. Lets be clear, not only do these analyses reflect intellectual laziness on the part of their authors, who are unable to comprehend current affairs without use of outdated paradigms, but also they show these authors real vision of democracy and public opinion.

What these changes mean for tomorrow's Europe

Finally, (and once again our "nice experts" and "charming intellectual elites" are not included in the number who do this) how can one integrate this new Franco-German relationship into the European project? The limits and errors of the Schroeder-Chirac tandem basically reflect this aspect of the union. FrancoGermany will not exist without other Europeans. It constitutes a catalyst of many European mixtures, corresponding to priorities, interests and projects of different categories of member states.

The EU in the decade to come will be a "shaker" which produces different cocktails depending on the intentions and dexterity of the barman. As the shaker is quite heavy, the barman will have to be quite strong. Today only FrancoGermany has the muscles needed to do the shaking. Will FrancoGermany have sufficient ideas to develop cocktails with other Europeans and which please the majority, as well as effectively responding to the objective challenges facing Europe, notably including the reinvention of relations with our American friends ?

Even if this is the subject for another article, one can be optimistic when one reflects on the Iraq crisis, as FrancoGermany managed to produce a cocktail which pleased 80% of Europeans, in reaffirming the central role of the United Nations in international relations (certainly this has to be adapted to the needs of the 21st Century), on the primacy of international law, and the refusal of the middle-ages concept of preventative war.

The coming generations of Europeans must a priori be good `EuroBarmen': let's not forget that this is the Erasmus generation. From 20 years of age, they have learned to make -and appreciate- good European cocktails together … in which case Chirac and Schroeder have to catch up.

Franck Biancheri - is Director of Studies and Strategy at the foundation Europe 2020 and President of the transatlantic organisation TIESweb. In 2002-2003 he conducted the Newropeans Democracy Marathon, a tour around Europe to debate with public audiences in 100 towns in 25 pays. The intensity and duration of his activity in favour of an integrated and democratic Europe was recognised when he was elected a Hero of the year in by readers of TIME in Spring 2003. He also co-ordinated the publication in June 2003 of the report "Vision Europe 2020"

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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