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The Tug of War for Europe's Soul By: George Jonas
The National Post | Wednesday, November 19, 2003

There's a tug-of-war going on for the soul of Europe. The opposing teams are France-Germany on one side and most of the European Union on the other. At least, that's the potential line-up: The EU will soon grow from 15 countries to 25, and some haven't quite made up their minds which side to join. Not surprisingly, they would prefer to join the winning side. Russia, for instance, spent the past few years alternately ringing alarm bells about Franco-German ambitions for dominance -- and then supporting the same, especially against the United States.

To assure the triumph of their vision, France and Germany have for some time considered a drastic step: gradual unification between the two countries. The weight of such a combination could be decisive in any tug-of-war.

The idea has been brewing under the surface for years but once in a while it plops to the top, as it did last week in the columns of the French newspaper Le Monde. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin referred to moves toward French-German unification as "the one historic challenge we cannot lose," while French EU commissioner Pascal Lamy floated the trial balloon of a unified French-German diplomatic service and a sharing of France's permanent seat at the UN Security Council with Germany.

At issue is the nature and composition of the European Union. Franco-German or hard-core Europe -- also known as "old Europe," courtesy of U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- envisages a continental entity that is unfettered by, or even hostile to, transatlantic bonds. This vision of the EU encompasses a bureaucratically "harmonized" state with a semi-command economy, a kind of glass-cockpit socialism for the 21st century. Such a Franco-German construct would be "nuanced" and "civilized" -- the code words denoting a state with a pragmatic bent, flexible ethics and a commitment to realpolitik. It would have a defence force separate from NATO, and held as aloof as possible from Anglo-American cultural, political and judicial influences.

In short, it would split Western civilization into an Atlantic and a continental branch.

An entirely different vision of the EU had been summarized in a declaration signed in January this year by eight member countries: Spain, Portugal, Italy, Britain, Poland, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Hungary. A key sentence in their document read: "The real bond between the United States and Europe is the values we share: democracy, individual freedom, human rights and the Rule of Law."

These countries, soon to be joined by a further group of new member states, look warily at the emerging Franco-Belgian-German eurocracy of Brussels. Most prefer a U.S.-inspired model of a free-enterprise liberal democracy to a dirigiste state, even if the latter is glossy and up-to-date. They also wish to safeguard the transatlantic alliance. Another key part of their January declaration read: "We in Europe have a relationship with the United States which has stood the test of time. Thanks in large part to American bravery, generosity and far-sightedness, Europe was set free from the two forms of tyranny that devastated our continent in the 20th century: Nazism and Communism. Thanks, too, to the continued co-operation between Europe and the United States we have managed to guarantee peace and freedom on our continent."

Such statements aren't music to Franco-German ears. Neither are they music to the ears of socialist or environmentalist gurus -- France's Jean-Noël Jeanneney, Pascal Lamy, Henri Nallet and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, or Germany's Joschka Fischer, among others -- whose ideas have set the tone of the European community, or at least its ruling circles. These Franco-German thinkers and statesmen fear that, with the expansion of the Union, pro-Atlantic and anti-statist sentiments may become dominant in the 25-member EU. This concern has prompted them to consider either a stronger union between the two European giants of France and Germany, or possibly a two-tiered EU in which a core group -- i.e., France-Belgium-Germany -- would forge ahead, then invite second-tier countries in the "euro-zone" to join them. Join them, that is, as long as these minor or new-EUers are prepared to commit to what Strauss-Kahn and his co-authors described in an earlier article in Le Monde (June 20, 2001) as "a model of social solidarity and external independence" -- the code words meaning a state of centralized bureaucracy that is as resistant to Anglo-American as it is receptive to Franco-German influence.

This is the polite way to describe the Strauss-Kahn model of anti-Anglo-American statism. Less polite would be euro-national socialism sans genocide: Nazism with a human face.

In modern times we've grown accustomed to viewing France and Germany as highly distinct and usually hostile nations. But this perception masks their historic origins. The French and German tribes share both Teutonic and Gallo-Roman roots. At one time, after the Frankish conquest of Gaul, they were essentially the same people. Later they shared a great ruler in Charlemagne. This was at the height of the Holy Roman Empire -- in many ways the precursor of the European Union. For France and Germany, a political union, far from being unprecedented, would be a repetition of their earlier history.

The attempt to resurrect the ancient Frankish empire of Charles the Great as a counterbalance to American "unilateralism" is no doubt motivated by what I once described as phallUS-envy, but even more by historic opportunism. France and Germany are glimpsing a chance. Having been continually frustrated in their global ambitions, they don't want to see Europe slip out of their grip. Charlemagne, legendary ruler of the "First Reich" in the 9th and 10th centuries, is a hero in the national mythology of both France and Germany. It seems the two heavy hitters of old Europe, having failed to build their empires in modern times, are now hoping to excavate one.

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