Friday, February 17, 2017
Le terrible dilemme de la glorieuse France
Prior to Germany's unification in the mid-nineteenth century, France had regularly been top dog in Europe for a thousand years. From Charlemagne through the Sun King to Bonaparte, the French do not forget.
After the second world war, with Germany both beaten and shamed, the French seized upon the idea of the EEC/EU. They would lead an exhausted continent, and the humiliated Germans would pay.
This vision of the EU as a greater, more glorious France endured for fifty years. It took the post-Cold War reunification of Germany and a new generation of Germans with declining guilt, to parlay Germany's economic power into European political leadership.
Who can forget those pictures of Angela Merkel, striding into power-summits with a diminutive Francois Hollande trotting beside her, as if a handbag dog?
A Germany coming into its own will have its natural satellites: Austria, parts of Eastern Europe. But France? Here is the dilemma. The EU project has become a suffocating straitjacket for France, forcing it into subservience to Germany. German-interest policies inflicted upon the whole EU have created popular discontent within France as elsewhere.
The result has been the collapse of the establishment parties in France, the Socialists and the Republicans, and the emergence of a Tony Blair-lite politician (Emmanuel Macron) along with the nationalist Front National as the main contenders for power.
The French establishment is solidly pro-EU, and as defeatist as the British powers-that-be. Its 'realistic' view is that the economic realities cannot be denied and that the best France can hope for is German satellite status with influence.
Marine Le Pen speaks for a France which, like Brexit UK, decouples from German domination.
It's not clear whether the upcoming Presidential election will coincide with a decisive rupture in the dynamics of French politics, which could hand Le Pen the victory. But the tensions between la glorieuse France and its default deferential future will only grow.
If not this time, then the next.