France fights Germany?

A piece argues that France is “at war” with Germany, “Nobody has ever described former French President Nicolas Sarkozy as a graceful loser. “I’m not saying, ‘After me, chaos,’” he told Le Figaro, referring to his eventual defeat by François Hollande, although that is, of course, exactly what he meant. Sarkozy all but taunted the French public, warning that they would sorely miss the fiscal discipline, vigilant defense, and respectable centrism he saw as the hallmarks of his presidency. And, belatedly, it does seem he had a point. Chaos is precisely what France has reaped in recent days. A murderous series of terror attacks has been followed by a nationwide manhunt, and warnings of further massacres to come. Facing a crisis of this sort, most other nations’ natural instinct would be to recoil. The French, by contrast, have indulged their instinct for repaying an indignity. Hollande has already initiated a series of airstrikes on the Islamic State capital in Syria.”

Of far more relevance the author notes that “The French government has also signaled that, on matters both economic and political, it will no longer be content with taking a backseat to Germany in the European Union. France has declared the Islamic State an outright enemy; more quietly, it has started treating German Chancellor Angela Merkel as a new type of adversary”.

The report goes on to make the point that “It might seem ironic that France has responded to its national crisis by setting its national aspirations even higher. But it’s entirely in keeping with France’s national character, and its traditional role in Europe. And it might turn out to be precisely what puts an end to the continent’s own extended moment of crisis. France’s new slogan of resistance, mocked up in cartoons and painted on city walls, is an old one: Fluctuat Nec Mergitur, the motto of Paris itself, inscribed on the city’s coat of arms. (Translation: tossed but not sunk, like a ship on the water.) Old habits die hard, and the sheer outrage of the attacks has reminded even Hollande of how unnatural and belittling German control over French budgeting has come to feel. “The security pact takes precedence over the stability pact,” as he announced at a joint session of parliament, vowing to spend whatever French security requires — however far in excess of European Union deficit caps”.

Of course it remains to be seen whether this nationalist surge will survive or whether it will fade with time and the French will continue to be good Europeans/Germans when Merkel starts noting the rise in the French deficit.

The piece goes on to note “France’s nationalistic insurgency is just the beginning. But with the right pair of eyes, it wasn’t hard to detect in advance. The country’s public, and its political class, have chafed for a long while at Europe’s reigning ideology of Merkelism, an approach to budgetary penny-pinching somewhat like Sarkozy’s but considerably more drastic, and infinitely more German in its commitment to following common rules. Merkel’s approach to keeping the eurozone intact was viewed by many Europeans as everything from bunk economics to moral bankruptcy, and its dead yet grasping hand was invasive enough to stir up memories of the deceptively distant Nazi occupation”.

He goes on to draw a connection between French treatment at the hands of terrorists with the euro crisis, which is quite a stretch. He seems to think that recent French actions against terrorists, given what happened in Paris, will translate into a “war” with Germany over the future of the EU itself. Yet, it is safe to say that French commitment to the EU is still firm, though less firm than it was, and that when time has passed and memories fade there will be little that will separate the two nations again i.e. Germany will tell France what to do and France will obey all the while being called a “key ally” of Germany.

He goes on to argue “Neither victory for the French nor defeat for Europe’s enemies, in other words, will emanate from the managed technocracy of the European Union. It must not have been lost on Parisians, or anyone, that even the national government in Brussels, where the institutions of the EU reside, confessed it could not “control” the “situation” in Molenbeek — that capital’s run-down neighbourhood linked to a string of terrorist plots, the Paris assaults the last. That shamefaced admission was an unforgiving analog of everything cumbersome, aloof, distant, ineffective, and weirdly dehumanized about the EU under German leadership, concerned as it is more about monetary and financial togetherness than unity of purpose on more fundamental political questions”.

He carries on this theme given what could only charitably be called evidence, “France recognizes that the nature of the threat Europe’s nations now face is broader than just Islamic terrorism. From Greece at the outset to Portugal now, “German austerity” has become the all-but-irreconcilable difference pitting nationalists on the right and left against continental elites obliged to follow in Angela Merkel’s footsteps. “What we are seeing,” thundered UKIP chief Nigel Farage late last month, “is an increasingly authoritarian European Union that crushes democratic rights and then actually crows about it. Every single time there is a crisis, it is national democracy that loses.” But the EU’s British critics are marginal, taking offshore potshots from the institution’s sidelines. A turn in France toward popular force, and against bankers’ restraint, however, would be a decisive blow to Merkel’s reign in Europe. No other nation in Europe is consequential enough to have anchored the EU as an equal partner with Germany, and no other can hold its lesser members together with an alternate worldview as firmly established as Germany’s own”.

Interestingly he does write that “Merkel is losing the support of allies including (another irony) the finance minister of Bavaria, one Markus Soeder, who has abruptly proclaimed that “Paris changes everything.” Balkan razor wire and German anxieties have already chipped away at Berlin’s hegemony in Europe on questions of migration; but only French élan can fill the breach and provide a confident alternative to Merkel’s vision. French politicians well to Sarkozy’s right are already preparing to do just that. Backed by another bump in the polls, National Front chief Marine Le Pen has demanded France break with the EU’s quota system for migrant admissions and impose an immediate halt. Le Pen has recognized that the backlash to Merkelism is as politically potent as the reaction to Bourbon despotism had once been in an earlier age. (She seems not to have entirely recognized, however, that France may struggle to capture the heart of Europe if it sours too much on the message of universal liberty, equality, and fraternity.) In all likelihood, the recent decades France has spent on the backbench of Europe will be seen as a classic historical blip. Radical or reactionary, French political opinion has characteristically spoken with prideful particularity to matters of universal European — and human — concern. And wherever its place on the spectrum, the French character has often bristled against the pinching modesty of accountants’ values. A few centuries ago, contempt was aimed at Britain’s nation of shopkeepers. This century, it is Germany’s turn”.


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