Obstacles to Cooperation; Franco-German Differences Are increasing.(WORLD)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 25, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Obstacles to Cooperation; Franco-German Differences Are increasing.(WORLD)

Byline: Andrew Borowiec, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

PARIS - Once hailed as the architects and energizers of European unity, France and Germany are seeing their objectives drift, buffeted by difficulties and disagreements.

French and German analysts increasingly believe that the famous "locomotive of European integration" is sputtering and that the leaders on both sides of the Rhine have less and less in common.

"Are we moving toward the demise of the Franco-German entente?" asks the conservative Paris daily Le Figaro.

The two partners, until quite recently confident about the future of what some call "the new axis," now disagree about the membership and financing of the European Union, contributions to the European Agricultural Policy, and the effectiveness of the planned European Rapid Deployment Force that many Europeans see as potentially replacing the U.S.-dominated North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Complicating the souring relationship between Paris and Berlin are economic difficulties in both countries, clouds over the campaign for the September general elections in Germany, and the increasingly tenuous bonds between Europe and the United States.

While German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is fighting what many see as an uphill battle to win another mandate for his Social Democratic-Greens coalition, France's conservative President Jacques Chirac has secured a virtual "carte blanche" to reform France and its institutions according to his personal blueprint.

Jubilant after his own re-election in May and the subsequent conservative victory in the parliamentary vote, Mr. Chirac has freed himself from "cohabitation" with the socialists that marred much of his first term.

As Germany's electoral battle crescendoes amid mounting government costs due to the recent devastating floods and the unsolved problem of unemployment, Mr. Schroeder's conservative challenger, Edmund Stoiber, has embarked on a smaller personal campaign to persuade France that he - not Mr. Schroeder - can revive Franco-German cooperation.

On a recent visit to Paris tantamount to open courtship of the French president, Mr. Stoiber crooned the familiar tune that "nothing can be done in Europe unless France and Germany agree."

He spoke of the "locomotive pulling Europe toward growth and prosperity" and listed what he saw as key priorities: enlargement of the European Union, decision on its new dimensions, the project of a European constitution and the question of Europe's role in the world.

The Schroeder government, Mr. Stoiber said, is "not capable" of handling such crucial tasks. Bluntly, he accused the embattled chancellor of allowing Germany's relations with France - "our most important neighbor" - to stagnate and "even become lukewarm" and insisted on the need to revive that stalled "Franco-German engine, to allow Europe a new takeoff."

European commentators see a number of obstacles in the path of effective cooperation between France and Germany, and particularly of their ability to dominate - or even lead - the European Union.

The inescapable fact is that on the threshold of an expansion eastward of the 15-member Union, it is much harder to find a consensus than was the case at the start of the six-nation European Economic Community.

Anne-Marie Le Gloannec of Berlin's Marc Bloch Center, a think tank, argues that "in an expanded Europe, alliances and partnerships can be concluded without necessarily including France and Germany."

Skeptics point out that during his seven years in office, Mr. Chirac has shown little interest in Germany or in its relations with France. Lionel Jospin, the former socialist prime minister, was openly pessimistic about the success of the relationship set up nearly 40 years ago and due to be replaced in January.

The current chill is blamed by some on the EU's expansion, on Germany's reunification and its problems, and on the neglect of the partnership during the 1990s.

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