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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EUROFILE: Paris, Bonn Will Ride Out EU Disputes




France's special relationships with Germany is not working anymore. French-German ties are disintegrating. The friendship between France and Germany is dead and was never really alive in the first place.


Over the past 20 years, I have come across many such penetrating insights into the relationship between the European Union's two main countries. All have been proved wrong.


A pinch or two of salt therefore seems appropriate when, as happened after an admittedly ill-tempered EU summit in Brussels at the start of May, talk surfaces that the French-German alliance is in crisis. There is a long way to go before Europe will ever stare into that particular abyss.


The issue that divided France and Germany in Brussels was the struggle over who should be the first president of the future European Central Bank, and for how long. Some detected a more fundamental dispute over how independent the ECB should be, and to what extent the state and elected politicians should determine economic policy.


According to this analysis, France is the land of state intervention, suspicious of free trade and the global marketplace, and wedded to the belief that superclever bureaucrats know best. In contrast, Germany is open to the world, home to a strong entrepreneurial culture, and hostile to political and bureaucratic interference in the economy.


But this is oversimplification. The differences in economic philosophy between France and Germany are less striking than the lack of a close personal friendship between President Jacques Chirac and Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Chirac has on several occasions upset Kohl by announcing initiatives, particularly on defense and security, without first consulting Germany.


Kohl preferred Chirac's predecessor, Fran?ois Mitterrand, and former European Commission president Jacques Delors. Each seemed more sympathetic to the ideal of European integration, showing a deeper understanding of the need for French-German reconciliation, even if Mitterrand tried briefly in 1989 to oppose German unification.


It cannot help matters that Chirac and Kohl are both staring political oblivion in the face. Chirac has never recovered from his Gaullist party's defeat in parliamentary elections last year, leaving him a subdued figure next to Socialist Premier Lionel Jospin.


As for Kohl, the Brussels summit opened him up to the charge that, under French pressure, he agreed to sacrifice the Deutsche mark and the principle of central bank independence for a weak and politicized euro. That may prove to be the last nail in the coffin of his ambition to win an unprecedented fifth successive term as chancellor.


But the French-German alliance will survive the passing of Chirac and Kohl, and may even benefit from it. After next September's German election a vigorous and popular Social Democrat, Gerhard Schr?der, may well come to power in Germany.


Schr?der will likely get on well with Jospin, because the French prime minister is more modest than Chirac, and far less prickly. Schr?der and Josp in also probably have more in common in terms of center-left ideology than either of them has with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.


For sure, French-German relations are hardly passionate at the moment. Perhaps both sides are suffering from a prolonged headache. But if Schr?der gets elected, expect France and Germany to be quickly back in bed together.