Sturm, Drang and Laetitia Casta’s breasts – or – Why France bashing is a feminist issue

[Nota Bene: Due to the deeply inane nature of JavaScript, clicking the “continue reading” link may not display images linked to posts. It doesn’t work for me in Mozilla or IE. If you click on the permalink, you will see all the content.]

Reader Christophe Kotowski sends a link to today’s International Herald-Tribune (a.k.a. The New York Times in Paris), in which New York Times reporter Nina Bernstein offers an solution to my earlier confusion about American policy towards France and Germany:

Meet Mr. Germany and Ms. France

It was on display again last week, that old double standard. On camera, Germany’s chancellor got a muscular handshake from America’s president and a meeting that let bygones be bygones. France’s president got the official cold shoulder and columnists’ heated denunciations.

Yet France and Germany had taken the same position on the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq. Both were offering to help train Iraqi security forces, but not to send soldiers. Both argued that only accelerated Iraqi sovereignty and a larger UN role could secure peace.

Apparently, it sounded different in French. Somehow, to American ears, it always does. At this point in strained trans-Atlantic relations, an obvious explanation comes to mind: In the American imagination, France is a woman, and Germany is just another guy.

The French themselves depict La Belle France as a bare-breasted “Marianne” on the barricades. They export high fashion, cosmetics, fine food – delicacies traditionally linked to a woman’s pleasure. And French has always been Hollywood’s language of love.

Germany, meanwhile, is the Fatherland, its spike helmets retooled into the sleek insignia of cars like the Mercedes and the BMW. It also exports heavy machinery and strong beer – products associated with manliness. Notwithstanding Goethe, Schiller and Franka Potente, German is Hollywood’s language of war, barked to the beat of combat boots in half a century of movies.

Such images simply overpower facts that do not fit the picture – like decades of German pacifism and French militarism since World War II. So what if France was fighting in Vietnam, Algeria and elsewhere in Africa and deploying a force of 36,000 troops around the world, while Germans held peace vigils and invented Berlin’s Love Parade. For Americans, it seems, World War II permanently inoculated Germans against “the wimp factor” and branded the French indelibly as sissies. [...]

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A Fistful of Analyses, or

A shameless plug:

The Center for Applied Policy Research, a think tank attached to the University of Munich does good work on the nuts and bolts of a large number of EU issues. In particular, their Bertelsmann Group for Policy Research will be covering the IGC as thoroughly as it covered the Convention and the previous summits. Their analyses – usually also available in English – get into the inner workings of the machinery and tell who will benefit from, for example, adapting different forms of qualified majority voting in post-enlargement Unions of 25, 27 or more. Their staff advises the German government fairly regularly, so if you want to see where the main stream of German debate on EU is flowing, this is a good place to look.

Plus, they’re outside the Brussels beltway, and indeed outside the occasionally fevered atmosphere in most national capitals. The distance tends to lend a cool, analytical slant to their writing on the EU.

If you happen to read German, their main page follows key developments on constitutional reform, defense policy and enlargement closely. The summary of the convention, Mutige Einschnitte und verzagte Kompromisse – das institutionelle Reformpaket des EU-Konvents, is a good example.

(Full disclosure: Some years back, I worked full time for the Center’s Research Group on the Global Future, and I continue to write, edit and translate for them. Take a look, and form your own opinion.)

Thank God for government by our betters

Via Crooked Timber and Mark Kleinman, I’ve just read this utterly stupid column from Forbes:

Europe’s Utopian Hangover

The EU is built on a fantasy–that men and women can do less and less work, have longer and longer holidays and retire at an earlier age, while having their income, in real terms, and their standard of living increase. And this miracle is to be brought about by the enlightened bureaucratic regulation of every aspect of life.

The EU is a French concept and is still largely run according to French ideas. And France is the archetypal EU country. If you have a regular job in France, your life is, in theory, lyrical. You work 35 hours a week. You generally get four weeks of holiday in August, plus a further three weeks throughout the year, in addition to 11 state holidays. Full medical care is provided, even in retirement. Retirement age varies, but it is now typically 55. Pensions may be two-thirds to three-quarters of a person’s salary at the time of retirement. [...]

Americans should count their blessings, above all the supreme blessing of having an economy that is run by businessmen not bureaucrats, or that–under wise governance–runs itself.

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No Really, It’s a Helpful Suggestion

This was just too perfect not to pass along:

Rosbalt
Opinion: Europe Is Too Weak to Be Russia’s Ally

MOSCOW, September 25. ‘The US and Russian presidents have an opportunity to
take a big step towards closer bilateral integration,’ Sergei Karaganov,
president of the Council for Foreign and Defence Policy, told a Rosbalt
correspondent yesterday. He suggested that they may even ‘discuss the
possibility of an informal strategic alliance’ when they meet at Camp
David. In his opinion, both countries are ready for this.

‘Most Russians are beginning to accept the importance of close strategic
collaboration with the US,’ the political scientist said. ‘At the same time
the US is starting to accept that it can not face the challenges in the
Middle East alone. This became most apparent after the military operation
in Iraq. In addition, the US has been disappointed by its former allies who
are no longer capable of supporting the US in its bid to modernise the
Middle East.’

Despite the fact that Russia is continuing to integrate with Europe Mr
Karaganov believes Europe is incapable of being an effective ally for
Russia. He called for a more pragmatic approach to foreign policy saying
‘we must cooperate with the US as Europe is too weak now to bring us any
serious political advantage.’

+++

Iraq really has shuffled the cards.

And beyond Karaganov’s apparent absurdity, I draw two points: the European commentariat spends a lot of energy on EU navel-gazing, while the world speeds onward; excessive concentration on transatlantic relations will miss the point of what those relations are for.

The continuing Franco-American mess

Today’s Le Monde points out the odd dichotomy in American policy towards “Old Europe.” It seems that the US has been playing nice with Germany and giving the French government the cold shoulder.
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Should Prodi Resign?

Well, I didn’t generate too much controversy yesterday, so let’s see if this one is a runner. Prodi is going to have a face to face meeting with members of the European Parliament to try and explain how the Eurostat mess was allowed to happen. According to the FT story Prodi is ‘attempting to fight off calls for his resignation’. Apparently he will explain that Commission members first learnt of the problem on reading about it last May in the press. So what do we say, is this a resigning issue? Should Prodi go? Would Solbes going be ‘settling scores’ on the SG pact differences? Well, this may be the sort of thing that brings the EU administration into ridicule, but at least we are able to ask the question.