Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Germany, coquettes, and relationships at the EU Core

Over at Marginal Revolution they are asking Does the EU still have a core?

They link to a report in the FT – German role in Europe unclear after French No

Over the past fifteen years or so there have been a number of issues that have produced tensions in the so called Franco-German alliance at the heart of the EU – for example: German re-unification, France’s attitude towards the Common Agricultural Policy, and the dispute over the Presidency of the ECB. Over the past several years a new and bigger element has been emerging to change the relationship - EU Enlargement. Many of the new EU member states in Central Europe that joined the EU last May are historically, culturally, economically, and politically closer to Germany than France. The volume of trade between these states and Germany is far greater than that with France; German investment in the region accounts for circa one third of the total whereas France’s investment in the region is, by comparison, minimal. I would suggest that Germany has been reconsidering its role in Europe and its relationship with France for some time - the French “Non” may simply speed up, I believe, the inevitable realignment.

A further point here is that Germany, up until the point that Schroeder used opposition to the Iraq war as a populist re-election tactic, has always been more Atlanticist than France. The nations of Central Europe are more Atlantic in their outlook too. If Angela Merkel gets into office later this year, as at present seems likely, that Atlanticism will likely be revived – the Iraq war was probably an aberration rather than an major shift in German foreign relations.

Deutsche Bank Research yesterday also commented on the Franco-German duo.

French-German relations will become less close and more complicated. A continuation of the French-German integration axis is far from being certain irrespective of the outcome of the prospective German general election in autumn. If a conservative coalition government takes over power there, a significant change in German enlargement policy is likely. The CDU/CSU strongly opposes Turkey's EU membership and is only willing to offer a "privileged partnership" implying full economic integration but no participation in institutions. Moreover, the CDU/CSU is expected to rely not solely on the French-German axis but also emphasises a stronger involvement of small and medium-sized member states in formulating European policy.

From - Talking Point – France says “non”
France and Germany might well find “popular” common ground over Turkey’s EU accession bid but then there is also a sizeable Turkish community in Germany and Germans are likley to wary of taking too strong a public stance against on this for fear of the inevitable accusations. However from living in Central Europe for over five years it is clear to me that there is also a very strong resistance in this region to Turkey – the strength of feeling may even me be much stronger than in France or Germany – it just isn’t discussed very much. Germans might be happy with their near neighbours taking the flak and doing their dirty laundry on Turkey??

Unlike the FT I don’t see Germany getting closer with the UK except perhaps on a few issues. Nor do I see the relationship with France as inviolable as the writer of an article Le Monde Diplomatique did earlier this year. (See the google cache of A marriage of convenience to avoid the subscriber barrier.)

Central Europe has a far stronger allure for me as Germany’s new partner. La belle France may well continue as Germany’s occasional mistress, but her inconstancy makes her an unreliable partner - Central Europe is less likely to play the coquette and will prove a far more constant and long-term partner. Of course, as Ms Guérot is quoted as saying in the FT, “Germany must help France perform a reality check” it is after all the only humane way to treat a coquette!

NB. Updated 3 June to add please also see my post of 4 June for more on Germany's re-aligning role in the EU.