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 Wednesday, 22 January, 2003, 04:51 GMT
Analysis: an alliance with big ideas
France's Jacques Chirac and Germany's Joschka Fischer, Gerhard Schroeder
The Franco-German plan has attracted mixed reviews

The Elysee Treaty signed by France and Germany 40 years ago on Wednesday had been forgotten by most people.

Now it may be eclipsed by the dramatic proposals being made to mark its anniversary.

The events of the day itself are extraordinary enough.

There will be the two countries' first joint cabinet meeting in Paris, followed by a joint session of the Assemblee Nationale and the Bundestag - the two parliaments.

The meetings, like the hugs and toasts that will doubtless be performed before the cameras by President Jacques Chirac and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, may be largely ceremonial.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair
Blair may be worried by the plan
But the potential import of the initiatives to be announced is enormous, not just for France and Germany but for the whole of the European Union.

There are to be more joint cabinet meetings, and a new top-level secretariat is to be set up, headed not just by civil servants but by high-profile politicians or well-known public figures, to coordinate the two countries' policies on a wide range of issues.

Mr Chirac says he wants the French and German parliaments to develop stronger ties in order to "harmonise our respective legislation in areas that affect the life of our citizens".

'Duel citizenship'

The two men are even to propose dual citizenship for residents of the two countries.

Germans living in France and French people resident in Germany could become citizens of their host country.

Such moves represent an astonishing rapprochement of the two nations who used to consider themselves the "motor" of European integration but whose relations had grown cooler in recent years.

It is unclear why the proposals should have been made precisely now, and equally unclear how successful they will be.

A farm
France and Germany made decisions alone on CAP
It is possible that once the anniversary hangover has worn off, things will return to normal.

But the intention is clearly to establish something quite new in Europe - and it is something that must worry not just Britain, which under Tony Blair has been trying to establish itself as a much more active player "at the heart of Europe", but also many of the smaller EU nations.

On the face of it, the Franco-German entente represents nothing less than an attempt to establish a new core at the centre of European politics.

If it worked, the upshot would undoubtedly be that many major EU decisions would be anticipated and pre-judged by Berlin and Paris, through their secretariat and joint cabinet sessions.

'Fait accompli'

We would see more decisions effectively taken by the two most powerful nations, then presented to the others almost as a fait accompli.

This has already been happening, and not necessarily happily for the other members states, left almost as onlookers in the process.

Last October, when French-German differences over agriculture spending threatened to derail negotiations over the funding of EU enlargement, Mr Chirac and Mr Schroeder came to an agreement which was then simply presented to the other 13 members, and accepted.

The agreement was greeted with great relief.

But was it a good agreement? Not necessarily.

It put off all talk of a thorough reform of the common agricultural policy almost indefinitely.

More recently, France and Germany presented their joint proposal on the future of EU institutions.

Joint institutions

It foresaw the creation of an EU president, to represent the Council (i.e. national governments), plus a stronger Commission, headed by a president elected by the European Parliament.

The first part of that was Mr Chirac's preference, the second was Mr Schroeder's.

Effectively, Berlin and Paris had overcome their differences by simply saying, "I'll agree to your proposal if you agree to mine."

But can the two ideas go together, or are they in fact mutually exclusive?


Certainly, the reaction from smaller states was highly critical.

Some said the creation of an EU president would lead to secretive rule by Europe's big powers.

The Franco-German plan also envisages the establishment of an EU diplomatic corps, with EU embassies and - logically - an EU foreign policy, under a minister for foreign affairs.

If French-German cooperation intensifies as planned, then certainly those two countries might muster a joint diplomatic approach.

But the rest of the EU?

At present, with, for example, such a wide variety of views on the most pressing issue in the world - what to do about Iraq - it seems decidedly premature to be talking about an EU foreign minister.

Still, the momentum being created by France and Germany is startling.

There has been much talk over recent years of a "two-speed Europe", of "enhanced cooperation", of "inner and outer circles" in the EU.

But no one expected this kind of "hard core" - just two countries, forging ahead with an unprecedented level of integration, and dragging perhaps the others along behind them.

See also:

09 Jan 03 | Europe
20 Oct 02 | Country profiles
23 Oct 02 | Country profiles
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