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

 

Share
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

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Renewable Energy Construction Manager

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Modern housing is not fit for purpose. It’s eroding our privacy, and suffocating the life out of Britain

Janet Street-Porter
 

A woman’s power is in her laughter – no wonder men are scared enough they want to silence it

Howard Jacobson
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices