- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 16, 2003

PARIS — Nervous at the prospect of losing influence when 10 newcomers join the European Union next year, France is seeking to form a partnership with Germany that would enhance both countries’ influence and help hold the union together.

“If a Europe of 25 [countries] fails, what’s left for France? A Franco-German rapprochement,” Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin was quoted as saying in the French newspaper Le Monde, which last week reported that France and Germany are studying a “project of unity.”

Long linked as the twin engines driving European integration, France and Germany drifted apart in recent years, divided by a series of disagreements that threatened to make the rift permanent.

Everything changed with the Iraq crisis late last year, when the two countries found themselves united in their opposition to the American-led war.

Now, France and Germany — two of the founding fathers of the new European Constitution — are bound again by their desire to see the draft treaty pushed through without major changes.

Representatives of the 25 current and near-future EU members are currently squabbling over the text at an intergovernmental conference in Rome. It is hoped an agreement will be reached by Christmas.

“The French need to take back the initiative, notably on the question of the European Constitution, where issues remain open and where small countries are challenging the draft,” said Rene Lasserre, founder and director of the Information and Research Center on Contemporary Germany in Paris.

“That’s the real motivation — to recreate a Franco-German axis of initiative to prevent the talks from becoming bogged down.”

With Central and Eastern European countries rallying behind the United States — and countries such as Poland committing troops to Iraq — Paris and Berlin have concluded that the enlarged EU will not be without divisions.

France, in particular, fears that the Eastern European countries could eventually tilt the EU toward the United States and thus away from France, the traditional powerhouse in Europe. It is hardly surprising then that French President Jacques Chirac would seek to correct the balance by cozying up to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Le Monde said that French Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy hopes to advance the Franco-German allianceby having the two countries combine their armies and diplomatic services and share France’s seat on the U.N. Security Council.

Germany, for its part, is circumspect. It has acknowledged that there is “close cooperation” with France, but emphasized that the absolute priority now was to see a constitution for Europe.

The idea of a Franco-German union is far from new. It was the personal friendship between French President Charles de Gaulle and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer in the 1950s that led to the creation of the precursor to the European Union.

Postwar reconciliation was further sealed in 1963, when the two leaders signed the Elysee Treaty, laying the institutional groundwork for shared policy-making and ministerial consultations, among other initiatives.

Like a marriage, the Franco-German friendship endured its ups and downs until 10 years ago, when two German politicians suggested that a wider Europe should be held together by a “core” composed of France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

The idea was later reintroduced by a group of socialist French and German politicians, but again, did not take off until the Iraq crisis.

According to a German study published earlier this month, 56 percent of Germans believe France is the most trustworthy partner in case of crisis, against 28 percent for the United States. In 1996, it was the reverse, with the United States seen as most reliable by 64 percent and France by 23 percent.

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