Germany′s French Affair Could Get Serious | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 14.11.2003
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Germany's French Affair Could Get Serious

If a French newspaper is right, German-French ties could go from its current love affair status to downright marriage in the future, with foreign, defense and economic policy being merged.


Foreign policy? Check. Economic policy? Check ...

Already united in their opposition to the Iraq war, their miserable economies and desire to keep power in the European Union in the hands of the big players, France and Germany might have even more in store.

The French newspaper Le Figaro reported this week that the governments in Paris and Berlin are thinking about merging important policy fields as well. Nothing concrete has been planned, but government representatives are reportedly considering tightly aligning their foreign, defense and economic policies.

The report is hardly surprising considering the two countries have become so close that French President Jacques Chirac recently represented Chancellor Gerhard Schöder at an important EU summit. But the alliance has caused increasing uneasiness in the rest of Europe and Thursday's report is not likely to help things.

Fearing a French-German bloc

In particular the smaller countries, among them the ten new members of the European Union, fear a French-German axis could turn into a formidable bloc in the EU decision-making process.

"These countries tend to sell whatever is good for them at the moment as 'European' ... that's not always the case," Janusz Reiter, head of the Center for Integration Research in soon-to-be EU member Poland. They need to "in any case ask other countries whether they think it's good for Europe."

The current discussions on the draft of the new European constitution have already split Europe along big and small. Germany and France are leading a bloc of large countries who want to change voting rights on EU policy to majority voting, in which a policy will pass if countries representing 60 percent of Europe's population vote in favor of it. The two are also in favor of a constitution provision that would limit the number of seats in the powerful European Commission in the future to the current 15.

The relationship is moving closer in other areas as well. Germany, once a fierce defender of Europe's Stability & Growth Pact that aims to limit deficits in EU countries, has moved wholeheartedly to the French side, which wants to set debt limits higher. Cause for the switchover is the current miserable state of the German economy, which has violated the stability pact twice already in the past two years.

Germany as "junior partner" to France

Not all think the bilateral informal meetings held by Schröder, Chirac and their foreign ministers with increasing frequency are healthy. French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in October that the Franco-German relationship is "not sufficient."

Others think that German policy being in harmony with France is another sign that Germany is slowly losing its power as a "middleweight" in European politics.

"They won't be the motor anymore, following the developments of the past few years," Ludger Künhard, of the Center for European Integration Research in Bonn, told Deutsche Welle. "They'll be considered by many as the 'junior partner' to France and be treated warily by many of the smaller countries."

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