"Old" vs. "New" Europe-And America: France's Geopolitical Intentions Enjoy a History Going Back to De Gaulle in the Early 1960s. Here's How America Should Respond. (Institutions)

By Connolly, Bernard | The International Economy, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

"Old" vs. "New" Europe-And America: France's Geopolitical Intentions Enjoy a History Going Back to De Gaulle in the Early 1960s. Here's How America Should Respond. (Institutions)


Connolly, Bernard, The International Economy


The celebrated Letter of the Eight expressing support for the U.S. stance on Iraq has been seen as giving substance to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's evocation of "New Europe" as a counterweight to the "Old Europe" of France, Germany, and their satellites. There is an obvious historical resonance in Rumsfeld's remarks: one of the Eight was Portugal, and it was in discussing Portugal's affairs in the Commons in December 1825 that British Foreign Secretary George Canning made his famous claim, "I have called the New World into existence, to redress the balance of the Old." After the end of the Cold War unfroze the rivers of geopolitics and marked the Rebirth of History, it took some time for the old concepts of the Balance of Power and alliance-building to re-emerge as driving forces in the world. But now they are definitely back. What's more, the numbers game has its own historical antecedents--in the strategic maneuvering within western Europe, pitting Britain's Seven (the European Free Trade Association, or EFTA) against France and Germany's Six (formerly the EEC, or European Economic Community, now the EU, once the Empire of Charlemagne), in the late 1950s and the 1960s. In the background stood the western superpower, the United States. Now we have the Eight, not to mention the Vilnius Ten. Can one speak of America's Eighteen?

France seems to have no doubts. We recently watched a Gaullist deputy saying on BBC television that the appropriate division was not between "old Europe" and "new Europe" but between "free Europe" and "American Europe." And "free Europe" has been seen, since Charles de Gaulle, as including Russia: de Gaulle sought a "Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals" that would compete with the United States for world hegemony. But it had to be achieved in stages. The first had to involve forging an alliance between France and Germany. "Europe," proclaimed de Gaulle, "is France and Germany: the rest are just trimmings." De Gaulle's government put forward in the early 1960s a plan, the Fouchet plan, that uncannily prefigured the Chirac-Schroeder plan for an intergovernmental political union in effect an anti-democratic superstate run by France and Germany with small countries squashed. It is hardly a mystery, then, that accession countries, most of them former provinces of the Soviet empire, are beginning to feel uncomfortable about the imperialism of France. Chirac's Brezhnev-like instruction to them to shut up and not attempt to meddle in the affairs of grown-ups rightly infuriated them, and the joint Franco-German-Russian approach to the Iraq question just as rightly worries them. The prospect of vassal status in a Franco-German condominium as staging-post to a Franco-German-Russian condominium is never going to be an attractive one.

To make things worse, the threatened "Constitution" will ensure that the Franco-German empire will have the characteristics of a New Soviet Union. It will incorporate the so-called Charter of Fundamental Rights, whose terrifying article 52 ordains, in polar opposition to the U.S. Bill of Rights, that all freedoms--of speech, of the press, of assembly, of political association, from arbitrary arrest, from punishment without legal sanction, from unfair trial, even from torture--shall be taken away if "made necessary by the pursuit of the objectives of the Union."

So joining the New Soviet Union will, for the accession countries, mean condemnation to vassal status in an anti-American, repressive empire. They may regard the United States as potentially their protector against the worst aspects of the NSU. But the United States is not going to join the NSU. And Chirac is as anxious to ensure that the accession countries do not import pro-American attitudes into the NSU as de Gaulle was forty years ago to keep Britain, suspected of being a Trojan Horse for the United States, out. So why might the governments of the accession countries choose to shut up rather than stay out? …

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