A senior German official has warned France that if it wants better relations with Germany it needs to face up to uncomfortable elements in its own history, such as the pro-Nazi Vichy regime. Academic Rudolf von Thadden, picked by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder two years ago to co-ordinate Franco-German relations at the Foreign Ministry, told the newspaper Die Tageszeitung: A Frenchman who does not do that is basically no better than a German who does not have a critical engagement with Hitler and the Nazi past. The intervention by von Thadden can only have added tension to a key Franco-German brainstorming dinner summit on Wednesday night. For that meeting French President Jacques Chirac and his country’s Prime Minister Lionel Jospin had tactfully chosen to host Schroeder in a restaurant in the heart of Alsace, the region where French and German cultures co-exist happily.
But it might have been more appropriate for them to have had their rendezvous in a garage because parliamentarians and think tanks in both countries have been lamenting that what used to be the Franco-German motor driving Europe has broken down and is in need of repair. The get-together meeting was itself an acknowledgement by the two leaderships that contact and co-operation between them is not what it was in the days of Francois Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl. In the past a Franco-German meeting in advance of a forthcoming Euro-summit could be relied upon to sew up most of the agenda. Before the Nice summit in December they did not even try. At Nice Chirac irritated Schoeder by refusing to contemplate an increase in Germany’s voting strength in European Councils, despite Germany’s vastly-bigger population, swelled by the absorption of the former East Germany. Schroeder annoyed Chirac by pushing for a new inter-governmental conference by 2004 to settle Europe’s constitution, an implication that the French presidency had not done a good enough job.
Lately Schroeder has taken to insisting that the European Commission led by Romano Prodi must be supported. At Nice Chirac had cold-shouldered and insulted Prodi. At other recent summits France and Germany have clashed on agriculture subsidies and on Germany’s contribution to the EU budget. Schroeder and Chirac are split too on their vision of Europe. Chirac favours the Gaullist notion of a Europe of vigorously independent nation states. Provocatively, Schroeder argued a few days before the Alsace meeting for integration rather than inter-governmentalism, a clear dig in Chirac’s ribs.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, an even keener integrationist than Schroeder who wants an elected European Commission president, has several times provoked French ministers into less-than-veiled criticism with his calls for transition from a union of states to full parliamentarianisation as a European federation. When the French European Affairs minister Pierre Moscovici approached the Alsace meeting by admitting that a frank and friendly discussion was needed between the French and German leaderships it was confirmation just how bad things were. When politicians talk of being frank and friendly it normally means they are going to sulk over the starter, mutter over the main course and snipe over the sweet. But they will be prepared to smile for the cameras.
Even if the Franco-German relationship is strained neither side likes to say so too publicly on big occasions. But few Euro-diplomats were prepared to forecast cordiality over the coffee. Especially after the intervention from von Thadden. Social Issues Essays