Of Demons and Details.

Tonight, a French friend sent sent me an email expressing his disappointment about the fact that a Eurodistrict comprising the French (Euro-)city Strasbourg and the German regional authority Kehl, which will be officially created by officials from both parties at a signing ceremony tomorrow afternoon, is falling far short of the enthusiasm it was conceived with (some details by Reuters (in French)).

During the heyday of the latest Franco-German governmental rapprochement in early 2003, Chancellor Schröder and President Chirac signed a declaration calling for new forms of European institutional cooperation. But lacking consistent ideational support from the two governments, the regional authorities were unable to overcome different administrative practices, legal concerns, and – problems to fund a bridge. Thus, they will not establish a new form of supranational institution but rather “just another” council for regional cross-border cooperation. And they won’t get a new bridge.

Sad as this is, my friend’s real concern is not the Eurodistrict itself, but what the French and German political elites’ apparent unwillingness to give a difficult but important symbolic project the kind of political backing it needs could mean for the Franco-German relationship in general.

This is an important and timely question, given that Franco-German quarrels about important political issues ranging from CAP to industrial policy to such supposedly mundane questions like the appointment of the new CEO for Airbus Industries have been masked by a superficial rethoric of cooperation. It is all the more important because France’s position in Europe has been weakened by what one might call self-absorbed politics of President Chirac while Germany will likely become more Atlantist again under the incoming Chancellor Merkel.

Moreover, if not even the time-tested Franco-German alliance has enough energy these days to jump start even regional multilateralism, what does mean for the two countries, for Europe, and the EU, as a whole?

My friend’s answer is pessimistic for the time being. He is sad to have to conclude that, for all the amitié Franco-Allemande has achieved over the decades, there is apaprently still not enough “fundamental trust” to overcome the inertia caused by institutionlised “national demons.”

Of course, trust is a term that is not easy to define (should it only be used for non-calculative relations, and what are those?), it’s not hard to understand what is meant by “lack of trust” looking at the way the French and German polities currently interact, eg the French government not “trusting” a German CEO for Airbus.

But I doubt that the two peoples still feel this way, and thus I wonder to which extent any perceived lack of “trust” is really a matter of the political institutions’ micro-institutionalisms and based on differences in organisational systems. Given the more structured way the French polite elite is educated, this could be a bigger problem in France than in Germany, where a cab driver is still the acting Foreign Minister. Just as business school and network socialisation are, I believe, partly to blame for the excesses of American CEOcracy, the effects of ENA on the French polity’s way to look at Europe should not be underestimated. It would be unfair to blame that on the people.

And before I forget it: Allez les Bleus!

3 thoughts on “Of Demons and Details.

  1. The role played by the ENA in France, in French politics is a general and somehow overwhelming problem.
    So, of course, it represents another obstacle for the French-German relationship.

    But my long-term fear is larger than the French ENA-matter.

    My fear is that the sympathy-window between the two countries could close itself, if nothing is done to let the French and German peoples come closer to each other. Pacifically, I mean :))

    And you are right, there is not much to await from the French politics, where there are always much more urgent matters, like deciding who will run for the next Presidential election.
    And a Presidential election in France, it is like “carnaval” in Germany. “After the election” is “before the election”

    On the contrary, because Germany is a federation of Länder, cooperation might be easier to foster on a regional level. So maybe a political solution would be to develop interregional cooperation ?

    But on the whole, I rather hope that NGO and local or individual projects will continue to tighten the links between French and German peoples.

    And that these projects will be numerous and successfull enough to compensate the growing lack of knowledge of the neighbours in each people.

    And to finish with an optimistic note: the 10th German Film Festival of Paris has been very interesting and quite successfull, with many projections sold out.


  2. Could the lack of enthusiasm perhaps have something to do with the fact that Kehl (in Germany) is a very small town with nothing to offer and Strasburg (in France) is a major city with, well, everything?


  3. “Moreover, if not even the time-tested Franco-German alliance has enough energy these days to jump start even regional multilateralism, what does mean for the two countries, for Europe, and the EU, as a whole?”

    I think this is an important point and the squaffle over this regional cooperation is well mirrored in Europe’s problems these days.

    The old members of the union are turning inwards and old habits of protectionism are once again on the agenda. Particularly France is showing signs of old virtues of industrial dirigism mixed with FDI bashing.

    I think it is true to hope for some down-top regionalism to improove the Franco-German relationship but the relationship with what comes into Europe is equally as important.

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