Leading article: Europe's new dynamic holds risks for Britain


Related Topics

As Europe prepared for François Hollande's likely victory in France, two considerations were consistently uppermost.

The first was that an Hollande presidency could severely strain the Franco-German partnership. The second was that, whatever the outcome, British-French relations would remain on an even keel. When Mr Hollande follows his recent predecessors in making his first foreign trip as President-designate to Germany, the first preconception could be confounded. The second could follow in short order – and not in a good way.

The notion that Mr Hollande and Angela Merkel would start out on the wrong foot reflected the belief that a centre-left French President and a centre-right Chancellor would find it harder to get along than two leaders of similar ideological persuasion. Mr Hollande's promises to favour growth above austerity also seemed to bode ill for a co-operative approach, given Ms Merkel's devotion to debt reduction and sound housekeeping. When Mr Hollande said in his victory speech, "Austerity no longer has to be our destiny", it was not hard to imagine alarm bells ringing in Frankfurt and Berlin.

Yet every French leader, as every German leader, is familiar with the imperative that drives them together, especially at this time of uncertainty for the euro. Nor have divergent party allegiances been any bar to productive working relations. Nicolas Sarkozy and Ms Merkel were very different characters, even if they eventually became so close that Ms Merkel was ready to help campaign for Mr Sarkozy. On this, fortunately for Ms Merkel, wiser counsel prevailed.

Thus saved from herself, the German Chancellor can open relations with a clean slate. And the early signs are that, temperamentally, she may find it easier to deal with Mr Hollande – a less flamboyant and more consensus-oriented character, much, in fact, like herself. Even their divergence on the central question of growth and austerity could evolve into a difference of emphasis rather than principle. A new flourishing of Europe's Franco-German dynamo cannot be excluded.

Relations with London, on the other hand, could easily move in the opposite direction. While Ms Merkel sensibly decided against campaigning for Mr Sarkozy, the Prime Minister declined even to grant Mr Hollande a courtesy call during his campaign trip to London. It is true that relations between Mr Cameron and Mr Sarkozy had their ups and down. The ups were defence cooperation and the joint air intervention in Libya, where it was possible to discern the kernel of a new European and transatlantic defence settlement. The downs were French arms sales to India, but most of all Mr Cameron's refusal to sign Britain up to the financial stability pact. The way Mr Sarkozy ignored Mr Cameron at the following EU summit seemed to consign Libyan co-operation to the distant past.

The cooling of relations with Mr Sarkozy, however, does not mean that the arrival of Mr Hollande will necessarily instil warmth between London and Paris. Mr Hollande is a French Socialist of traditional pro-Europe views; Mr Sarkozy saw himself as an Atlanticist and took France back into the Nato command structures. Will Mr Hollande spare defence when he wants to find money for his social programmes? If Britain and France can no longer see eye to eye here, and Mr Cameron remains aloof from the euro crisis, there will be less for Britain and France to talk about, let alone agree on.

And the loser here would not be France, which would be comfortably ensconced in the bosom of Europe, but Britain, once again out on a limb. This might suit Conservative Eurosceptics, but it would be extremely disadvantageous for Britain, especially when the country is in such desperate need of economic growth. Mr Cameron would do well to seek talks in Paris, and fast.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own