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!