Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The times they are a'changing

Interesting article in Der Spiegel on "Madame Non and Monsieur Duracell", which takes a gloomy if somewhat amused view of the relationship between Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy. Beyond the personal dislike and lack of understanding there is the clash between the two countries and their aims, for long hidden by historical events.
The conclusion that the differences of opinion between Germany and France were more than just a passing phenomenon, that they were deep-seated, finally became clear during the economic and currency crisis. France wants a common European economic government for the 16 euro-zone countries, complete with its own administration. And this is precisely what Germany does not want.

Merkel wants to discuss budgetary discipline and austerity measures with the French, while Sarkozy says that all of these savings plans will just exacerbate the recession. Germany is calling for chronic deficit spenders to be penalized, possibly even excluded from the euro zone. France considers this a violation of the European idea.

Sarkozy even avoids using the word rigueur, or budgetary discipline, altogether. Meanwhile, the French social insurance system alone faces a €30 billion ($36.6 billion) debt this year, and the country's budget deficit is forecast to be €156 billion. France's foreign trade declined by 17 percent in 2009.

The relationship between France and Germany is and has long been burdened by classic conflicts and controversies. In France, growth is traditionally based on consumption, while the German economy grows through exports. The French, as has long been the case, are not big on saving: The government in Paris hasn't balanced its budget in three decades.

To make matters worse, the much-touted "equilibrium of disequilibrium" (l'équilibre du déséquilibre) between the two countries has shifted. France was long a giant, politically speaking, but a dwarf economically, while the situation was reversed in Germany. Both positions shaped their relations for decades, as German chancellors set aside national interests to demonstrate their solidarity with the French partner. Merkel, however, has taken a different tone for months, marking a paradigm shift in Germany's European policy.
This fits with the point I have made over and over again: the EU is predicated on a guilty and subservient Germany. With time going on and new generations, who cannot even recall the war, appear on the scene (and in Merkel's case there is the added point of growing up under the Communist system) guilt and subservience can no longer be relied on and the Franco-German motor, which presupposed French supremacy is now sputtering. In many ways, that is more important than the Greek or Spanish fiscal crises.


  1. Is it wrong to feel some Schadenfreude towards the French at this development?

  2. Certainly not, AKM. ;-)

  3. <blockquote> Is it wrong to feel some Schadenfreude towards the French at this development?</blockquote>

    It would be unacceptable unless you pronounce Schadenfreude the way a Frenchman would.

  4. Too late, I may have already committed this emotional faux pas :)

  5. Ralf, how would a Frenchman pronounce Schadenfreude?

  6. I don't think he could. He'd die trying.

  7. Sorry, the guest above is me.