- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 25, 2002

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.
Of considerable importance is the highly controversial question of the European Union's agricultural subsidies: While Germany is the biggest contributor to the European farm kitty, France is its main beneficiary. No easy compromise is in sight, and the planned EU summit in November will be more focused on tackling the EU's expansion eastward.
On the economic front, Mr. Schroeder is unlikely to find a formula to reduce unemployment. As the electoral campaign unfolded, Germany had 4 million job-seekers and factory orders fell by 3.2 percent in one month.
The authoritative Deutsche Bank has cut its forecast for German economic growth from 1.2 percent to 0.5 percent in 2002.
Haunting Mr. Schroeder is his 1998 campaign quip that if he did not cut unemployment to 3.5 million, he was not worth electing. It is on that pledge that he defeated conservative Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
Also marring the Social Democrats' record are scandals including abuse of airline tickets by high officials and the resignation of Rudolf Scharping as defense minister. The loss of confidence was such that Mr. Schroeder was rumored to have made plans to leave Germany for Canada or the United States after the elections.
After two weeks of the German election campaign which started earlier than planned and was then overshadowed by the flood emergency an important barometer was an opinion poll showing that among the 600 captains of German industry, 68 percent were planning to vote for Mr. Stoiber's Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister, the Christian Social Union, while 80 percent regarded the Social Democratic Party-Green coalition as "extremely weak."
However, Mr. Schroeder appears to have received an unexpected boost in recent days from the devastating floods along the Elbe River. His frequent trips to the stricken areas, energetic action to aid the affected population and ability to handle the crisis have considerably improved his image in opinion polls.
While Europe debates the diminishing U.S. influence on the "old continent," caused mainly by President Bush's threats against Iraq, faults are emerging in plans for a separate European intervention force.
While Mr. Chirac has spoken of the need for a "pact of collective security," Germany has preferred a more vague "policy of security and defense." This includes a plan for a 60,000-member European Rapid Reaction Force that would be capable of deployment within 60 days of an emergency and prepared to remain in crisis areas up to a year.
The project is to take shape next year except that most EU members are slashing their defense budgets, and four (Sweden, Finland, Ireland and Austria) are firmly committed to neutrality and opposition to any form of military action.
As far as Iraq is concerned, European media portray Mr. Bush as being "very much alone."
In his campaign, Mr. Schroeder said that under his leadership there is a limit on Germany's commitment to the United States.
"We are ready for solidarity, but this land will not be prepared for adventures as long as I am in control," he said. "I believe we should keep up the pressure on Saddam Hussein, but I am not in favor of playing around with war or military action."
Mr. Stoiber's views are similar.
Whatever happens, the view in Paris as far as Franco-German relations are concerned is that "whether it will be Gerhard Schroeder or his rival Edmund Stoiber next autumn, our discussions will remain difficult."

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