- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 22, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 (UPI) — So what do we call them, the inhabitants of this new Franco-German hybrid?

Their joint citizenship is to be announced Wednesday as France's National Assembly and Germany's Bundestag have their first common session to celebrate 40 years of their Treaty of Friendship.

They could be the Frermans or maybe the Gench. In their jovially patronizing way, the British will probably blend Krauts and Frogs into Krogs. Or maybe Frauts. But since these days they all spend the same European currency, face the same interest rates and the same money supply, and are trying very hard to adopt the same common foreign and defense policies, they might prefer to be called just euros.

The Franco-German relationship has been the locomotive of the European idea and of the European economy for 40 years. It has also been the great justification of the European project, a mechanism that ensured peace between the Germans and French after a century of struggle for mastery. The faltering of that relationship in recent years can be traced directly to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, creating a re-united Germany of 83 million people that shifted the balance of power in Germany's favor.

But what we have seen lately, as France's Jacques Chirac and Germany's Gerhard Schroeder labored mightily to rebuild the troubled alliance, has been a new shift in the balance of power back in France's favor. The 7-year stagnation of the German economy is one factor and the deepening pacifism of German voters is another.

So the fruits of the renewed friendship have been problematic. The first sign was Germany's decision to cave in to French demands that the EU's protectionist and costly Common Agricultural Policy be saved yet again for another 10 years. The second was Germany's decision to dilute its idea to boost the EU's democratic legitimacy by electing a president of the European Commission, the EU's executive body that is meant to be above national interests and always put Europe first. Germany has chosen to go along with the French plan for a powerful new president of the EU Council, the body where the national governments meet.

In effect, the plan tries to reach a compromise between Germany's hope of a federal state, a kinder, gentler United States of Europe, and the French preference for an European Union run by national governments.

This would mean that the European Union will increasingly be run by the big powers, to the horror of the smaller nations who have combined in protest against it. Belgium's foreign minister this week told the EU's constitutional convention that the plan was "totally inadmissible." Austria, Greece and Portugal have voiced similar objections. For the Dutch, Gijs de Vries said it would provoke "confusion, acrimony and stalemate."

"A full-time president of the European Council would be the most powerful politician of Europe but will not be elected by the people or be accountable to a democratic body meeting in public," de Vries added.

Ireland's Peter Sutherland, a former EU commissioner, argues that the Franco-German plan "combines the flaws of both the intergovernmental and the federalist schools of thought", and sets the stage for "constant conflict" between the traditional president of the EU Commission and the proposed new president of the EU Council.

Whether or not this plan goes ahead, it seems clear, as Swedish Prime Minister Goran Person thoughtfully noted in an interview with Dagens Nyheter this week, France now looks to be the most important country in the European Union in the years ahead. At least Paris will enjoy that eminence until the British, their economy now slightly larger than the French, decide to plunge fully into the European project and — if they can ever brace themselves to do so - join the euro currency zone.

So as the French and German elites congratulate one another this week on the renewal of the Elysee Treaty and plan for joint Cabinet meetings and further cooperation at the United Nations against American hegemony, a question should be asked. Is it still the case — as it probably has been for 40 years - that the Franco-German alliance is good for both countries and equally good for Europe as a whole?

The smaller EU countries seem to be saying "No." Some Germans are questioning whether the new relationship is as balanced as it should be. The British are wondering what the wily Krogs and cunning Frermans are up to this time. Americans, even with a certain tolerant understanding of the messy 10-year trail the founding fathers took from the Articles of Confederation of 1777 to the U.S. Constitution of 1787, may look at the current display of Franco-German alliance at the U.N. Security Council and wonder whatever happened to their old allies.

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