Paris and Bonn hold fast together

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The Independent Online
PARIS and Bonn are still the kingmakers in the European Union, despite frequent predictions that the Franco-German relationship driving the European Union is on the verge of falling apart, and the hostility which the alliance arouses in other European capitals.

The clumsy attempt by the German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, and the French President, Francois Mitterrand, to impose their handpicked candidate for president of the European Commission backfired badly at the weekend. But it remains an article of faith in the EU that the successful candidate to head the Commission will first and foremost have to meet the requirements of France and Germany.

The two countries that helped to found the original European Coal and Steel Community as a way of averting war are still the motor force behind the union. Their circumstances have changed over the years and the united Germany is now by far the most powerful country of the Twelve. But predictions, by British commentators in particular, that the relationship would soon fall apart have not been fulfilled.

'The Franco-German relationship has survived this long because of the personality of Helmut Kohl,' said Graham Mather of the European Policy Forum, an independent think-tank, 'but it will not be there for ever, and preparations are already well under way for when it comes to an end.'

'It was given a respite by Kohl's good showing in the European elections,' Mr Mather added, 'but the Corfu crisis and the way the Germans and French tried to bulldoze their candidate, Jean-Luc Dehaene, through has left a sour taste for many countries.'

By highlighting the secretive and undemocratic process by which the head of the Commission is chosen, John Major inadvertently turned the spotlight on an unsavoury side of the Franco-German alliance. Although Mr Major acted for mainly domestic political reasons, his veto could hasten the day when the president is chosen on the basis of principles rather than a fait accompli imposed by Europe's two most powerful nations.

The alliance has endured this long because of the conviction of Chancellor Kohl and President Mitterrand that their partnership is vital to the future of the EU - and in the interests of their own countries. But there are already noises in the German foreign ministry that the alliance needs to be broadened to include Britain. Similarly, senior French policymakers are preparing for the day when Chancellor Kohl has left the political scene, to be replaced by a post-war generation German leader who is far less keen to keep the alliance so narrow.

Mr Kohl's good showing in the Euro-elections and the likelihood that he will be re-elected as Chancellor this autumn have pushed that day off somewhat. Mr Major's slight to Chancellor Kohl in Corfu would appear to reduce Britain's chances of entering the charmed circle while both men remain in power.

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