Jacques Delors has warned it may no longer be Britain which is the main cause of disunity in the European Union. The Franco-German axis, historically the driving force behind European integration, is itself becoming a problem, he has cautioned.
The New Year in France has brought an icy blast of frankness about the growing instability of the relationship between Bonn and Paris, a subject hitherto thought settled. The former president of the European Commission and the historian Francois Furet have both said this week that, whether or not European unity turns out to be the solution, a preponderant Germany could very well be the problem, as it has been before.
For these two figures - one from the left, the other from the right - to sound so public a warning shows the growing concern in France. Mr Delors decided last year not to stand for the French presidency race because he feared to inflame the European issue in France.
Reviewing a new book about Europe by Laurent Cohen-Tangui in the magazine Nouvel Observateur yesterday, Mr Delors wrote: "I cannot but approve when the author invites us not to focus more than necessary on the classic reservations of Great Britain [about Europe] ... Let us have the courage to recognise that the real risk today is not so much the risk of a Euro- British crisis as that of a Franco-German split."
Interviewed the previous day in the daily newspaper Figaro, Mr Furet said: "France today has two main problems: the first is that of budget deficits ... the other, that of Europe... But these two problems have the same face: Germany."
France's deficit-cutting drive, which provoked the recent public-sector strikes, is partly a response to German dismay at the failure of other countries to match German fiscal discipline.
Mr Furet added that "120 years after Bismarck and two world wars, we find ourselves facing the very same question that was posed at the end of the last century: how can Europe be made to live when it has such a German preponderance?".
Mr Delors criticises Mr Cohen-Tangui's view that the fall of the Berlin wall called into question the guiding ideas of the European Union's founders. But in maintaining that these principles, above all the desirability of locking Germany into a united Europe, are more necessary than ever, Mr Delors warns that this project could fail.
"By swinging between the reflex of sovereignty a la anglaise and federalist ambition a la Germany, the native land of Jean Monnet [founding father of the EU] ... risks discouraging those German leaders who have repeatedly and unfailingly shown their allegiance to a European Germany rather than a German Europe."
For such a pro-European as Mr Delors to suggest this, even as a pretext for proposing a "European federation of nation-states", suggests the Franco-German relationship is not as solid as both sides insist.
Mr Furet's historical allusions drive home the point. The reason why the German problem has returned, he says, is "because Germany is at the centre of Europe, it is the most productive and most populous country, it is unified and, with the end of Communism and for the first time since Peter the Great, it has no counterbalance in the East. We therefore face a Europe where Germany is the dominant power".
The depth of French fears was clear last year. Successive Franco-German meetings, including two summits held at short notice on French instigation, seemed designed to reassure Germans about France's commitment to Europe under President Jacques Chirac, and its determination to meet the Maastricht criteria for a single currency.
However, German concerns about France and Maastricht pale into insignificance compared with France's fears about Germany's commitment to the European project. It fears a Europe so dominated by Germany that it is in effect German; it fears the idea of a federal Europe in which national sovereignty is sacrificed. Above all it fears that if Germany forsakes the single currency, the European project is dead.Reuse content