French fears of Germany threaten core Euro alliance France falls out with Germany and brings new chill to Europe

JACQUES CHIRAC and Helmut Kohl have one thing in common: a love of food. As soon as he was elected President of France in May, Mr Chirac made a date with Mr Kohl in Strasbourg and, in a gesture of solidarity, took the Chancellor out for a symbolic meal of sauerkraut. Beyond that mess of cabbage, however, the two men have since found little else to share. Four months on, the relationship between Europe's two big power brokers has degenerated into one of mutual suspicion.

Much of the confusion which has engulfed the European Union in recent days - including doubts over monetary union, voiced again in Valencia yesterday - can be traced to the gulf which has opened up between the French and German leaders.

This week in Brussels several seasoned voices spoke in apocalyptic terms of the danger of a breakdown in the Franco-German alliance. Astonishing though it may seem across the Channel, the "danger" they refer to is that should ties break down between the French and Germans, decades of concerted reconciliation could be at risk and Europe could be back on the road to war.

To Britain, such talk smacks of Continental hysteria - a kind of blackmail worked by the Europeans to win Britain round to federalism. But the British, who never suffered occupation, have often failed to understand the Franco- German partnership or the European drive towards integration.

The federalist ideals of post-war Europe sprang directly from a desire to prevent war ever breaking out again. France, along with Germany's other smaller neighbours, recognised the only way to live in long-term peace alongside Germany was to strap the giant down inside an integrated Europe.

Germany's post-war leaders have acknowledged this too - and nobody more clearly than Mr Kohl. Britons tend to believe that Germany wants a federal Europe in order to dominate it, and they nod knowingly as Mr Kohl's ever more gargantuan figure bounces across the European stage.

Meanwhile, however, Mr Kohl is pleading with his European partners to help curb Germany's potential lust for power and "national egoism", by abandoning their own competitive obsessions with the nation-state, and building a federal Europe.

"We are frightened of ourselves - of our size and power. We must not be isolated. We must be part of Europe," said one of Mr Kohl's most trusted officials recently. "The structures we are building in the EU may not be perfect. But they are better than the devastation of 1945. Without the EU I am convinced there is real danger of another war."

All France's post-war leaders have understood that integration is the only way. The Franco-German partnership has often faltered - particularly under General de Gaulle. But it has perhaps never been as weak as it is today. The question is: why?

Much of the blame is levelled at Jacques Chirac himself. A neo-Gaullist, Mr Chirac hesitates to pool more sovereignty. Francois Mitterrand, the former president, was genuinely scared of German power, and once spoke to Margaret Thatcher of the danger of "Germany on the march".

"She understood. Her eyes glinted at this," said one senior British diplomat this week. But since his election, domestic problems have been paramount for the younger Mr Chirac, who has failed to develop a vision of Europe; confusing his partners by flirting with John Major; pushing ahead selfishly with nuclear tests; and reneging on commitments to a border-free Europe.

At the same time, the dynamic of the Franco-German relationship had already been slowly changing. The mutual respect had always depended on tacit understanding that Germany would be politically self-effacing, by always punching below its weight - as Douglas Hurd might say.

Of late there is evidence of greater German assertiveness: they are more "tetu", say Commission officials. First came the German insistence that the EU should recognise Croatia, a move which many now believe fuelled the Balkan war. Germany is starting to show readiness to deploy military forces, at least in a support capacity. In Brussels there is a sense that Germans "are less frightened of themselves - more ready to speak out" say EU diplomats. Germany has recently insisted that key EU texts are always translated into German: an understandable demand but one which 10 years ago, Germany would have avoided "for fear of making waves".

French suspicions of Germany have come to a head over monetary union. Burying the "national egoism" is one thing, but burying the German mark by linking it to other crippled currencies is for many Germans quite another. Again, to calm European fears of German economic domination, Mr Kohl insists that monetary union go hand in hand with more political power-sharing.

But Theo Waigel, the German Finance Minister, gives voice to growing German concern when he demands that other currencies must toughen up before they join in EMU. His comments have fuelled new French suspicions that Germany may not ultimately be committed to monetary union, and there are even fears that France may fail to meet the economic criteria. As a result Mr Chirac has been loath to make the concessions called for by Mr Kohl on political union, and the progress towards EU reform has run into the ground.

"Chirac is suddenly suspicious of the Germans. Germany can sense this and is sensitive. It is dangerous to stir German sensitivities," said one French source last week.

Most commentators believe that Mr Chirac has no choice but to renew the Franco-German alliance. The French President knows that Mr Kohl may be the last German chancellor with a truly integrationist view of Europe. As one diplomat put it "The next German leader could see Europe very differently."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Full Stack Software Developer - Javascript

£18000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Strategic Partnerships Coordinator

£16000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Their research appears at the f...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Manchester

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This exciting startup disruptin...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen