Who’s the odd one out in Europe? Not us

France has left Germany's side and the public mood is heading South

Share

The dynamics of the European Union are changing fast. To see this, take a look at the results of some recent opinion polls that compare attitudes across the member states. They were conducted by the well-regarded Pew Research Centre based in Washington DC. And focus first on the findings for Britain, France and Germany.

When asked whether respondents believed that European integration strengthened their economies, only 26 per cent of the British sample said “Yes”. This is not surprising – but wait. In France, the proportion replying in the affirmative was actually lower (22 per cent). And when asked whether respondents had a favourable view of the European Union some 43 per cent of British people said “Yes”, but the French again were less enthusiastic (41 per cent). In other words, Britain and France can be grouped together in broadly similar levels of disillusion.

Now turn to what the survey reveals of the current state of opinion in Germany. Again, at first glance, there are no surprises. Just over half of German public opinion (54 per cent) believes that European integration strengthens the economy, and 60 per cent are favourably disposed towards the European Union. But then remember the French result. For what is highly significant here is the wide gap between French and German attitudes compared with the fairly close alignment of British and French opinion. That is the new dynamic. And, in turn, these shifts will have big consequences for the politics of the European Union. Indeed, we are looking here at a historic change. The long-enduring Franco-German alliance, which has driven Europe along since the early 1950s, has come unstuck. It’s broken; it’s kaput. And it won’t easily be put together again.

It was founded in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War when, on the Continent at least, the idea of the sovereign nation-state had become discredited. France and Germany had been at war three times in less than a century. Fascist glorification of the state – France under Marshal Pétain (1940-1945), Nazi Germany and Italy with Mussolini at the helm – had produced monstrosities. “Never again” was what many people on the Continent felt. Winston Churchill gave a speech in Zurich in 1946 recommending that France should lead Germany into a United States of Europe. And step by step, starting in 1952 with the creation of a common structure for the coal and steel industries, not only of the Ruhr, but also of France and other Continental countries, that was the direction in which Europe was to travel, culminating with the creation of a common currency area, the eurozone.

During this period, the Franco-German alliance worked well. The two countries were of broadly similar size. Both achieved satisfactory rates of economic growth. But then came German reunification. Suddenly, in terms of population, Germany became 25 per cent larger than France. And as a result of faster German growth since 1990, the gap has become even wider, with the German economy now producing 38 per cent more than the French. So France and Germany no longer form a partnership of equals, with France maintaining a sort of moral and intellectual superiority as it did for many years. Now there is a fractious relationship between a rich country and a neighbouring one with a badly managed economy.

There is one more important change that the opinion polls highlight. In terms of public attitudes, France is becoming more Mediterranean. Take the table that shows changes in the proportion of respondents who believe their economy is in good shape. In 2007, there was a lot of good cheer. In fact, the British were the most optimistic, with 69 per cent saying economic conditions were good. Then came Spain at 65 per cent (which was also enjoying a residential property boom) and Germany at 63 per cent. The score for the habitually morose French was 30 per cent. But since then, except in Germany, deep pessimism has taken over. The proportions now thinking that economic conditions are acceptable have fallen to 15 per cent in Britain, 9 per cent in France, 4 per cent in Spain and 1 per cent in Greece. But 75 per cent of Germans still think things are pretty good. In other words, as Pew’s commentary on its results notes: “The French public mood is now looking less like that in Germany and more like that in the southern peripheral nations of Spain, Italy and Greece.”

Now in due course these shifting beliefs in the efficacy of European integration and changes in mood will influence European negotiations. After all, the career politicians in Europe’s capitals, including London, Paris, Rome and Madrid, have only one rule of conduct – do whatever it takes to hang on to power or to regain it. And only Germany’s Angela Merkel has maintained her reputation for dealing with the economic crisis. Elsewhere, the loss of trust is substantial. Italy and France’s leaders have both dropped 23 percentage points in respect and in Spain the decline is 18 per cent.

From this, I draw the conclusion that European politics are in an unusually fluid state. The voting publics outside Germany clearly don’t think that the present arrangements are sacrosanct. In fact, contrary to received opinion in this country, now is a good time for Britain to seek to renegotiate the terms of her membership of the European Union. She could be surprisingly successful.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The law is too hard on sexting teenagers

Memphis Barker
 

Obama must speak out – Americans are worried no one is listening to them

David Usborne
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game