In the Shadows

PARIS/BERLIN | | frankreich

PARIS/BERLIN (Own report) - Preceding today's summit between the German chancellor and the French president, the dissention over Paris, Rome and Madrid's plans for a "Mediterranean Union" have escalated. French foreign policy specialists consider the project necessary for preventing the marginalization of Southwest European states through the EU's eastward expansion from becoming permanent. This assessment corresponds to analyses made by German government advisors, who view President Sarkozy's hectic measures as an attempt to "at least partially" withdraw France, economically speaking, out of "the shadows of the export world champion, Germany." The French government's desperate counter-measures to safeguard its influence in North Africa and with Arab states, is at the price of losing influence in Sub-Saharan Africa and access to Middle Eastern energy sources. Berlin is noting with satisfaction that Sarkozy's maneuvers to rescue the position of power is causing growing discord in the French capital. The French economy is in difficulty and influential forces are suggesting French subordination to German leadership.

Deficits

The German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) is among the institutions reporting on the dissention in Paris. According to the SWP, serious shortcomings are the reason for the numerous "reforms" introduced since President Nicolas Sarkozy came to power last summer.[1] For example "there is a multi-billion Euro hole (...) in the social security fund" and "the university system, highly acclaimed previously by many non-French" is "losing its reputation internationally." The economy is especially in difficulty. "French industry is having trouble being competitive, which for instance can be seen by its foreign trade deficit that has risen to 38 billion Euros." According to the SWP, subsequent to a certain stagnation that occurred during the presidency of his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, Sarkozy is seeking to "at least partially withdraw France from the shadows of the export world champion, Germany". These efforts are being thwarted by Berlin.

Financial Issues

The issues of contention go far beyond the so-called Mediterranean Union. According to SWP's assessment, Sarkozy is prepared to accept as a consequence of his "reforms" that "France's new debts in 2008 could surpass the three percent upper limit set by the Stability and Growth Pact."[2] In violation of European accords, the German government itself had done the same over several years, but wants to block France now. This is one of the reasons for the recent cancellation of the planned finance ministers' meeting, to which Berlin ostentatiously reacted with indignation. A second reason is the continued contention around the Euro's exchange rate, whose strength is above all advantageous for German enterprises, but detrimental to companies in France and other Southwest European countries. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[3]) The French demand for a change in the monetary policy, to allow for a revival of its domestic economy and a roll-back of the definite German hegemony, is met with rejection in the German capital.

Five to Fifty

The same applies for the "Mediterranean Union". Paris would like to bind its North African sphere of influence closer to the EU and thereby, not least of all, create new advantages for French enterprises in its traditional "back yard". These ideas are not new. Already in the early 1990s France sought means to counteract the approaching inflation of German power. Already at the time it was to be anticipated that the eastward expansion of the EU and the absorption of traditional regions of German influence in Eastern and Southeastern Europe would benefit above all Berlin. This has in fact happened. Germany's economic influence is dominant in countries in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, whereas Italy, at most, is competitive in a small number of countries (Romania, Croatia), French companies are not even in the race (german-foreign-policy.com reported [4]). Brussels is financing above all German priority regions: "Between 2000 and 2006, the EU has allotted approx. 5 billion Euros to Southern and 50 billion to Eastern" Europe, complained the former French Foreign Minister, Hervé de Charette.[5]

Displaced to the East

As Hervé de Charette recalls, the "Barcelona Process," begun in 1995, was supposed to thwart a one-sided East orientation. It failed. In spite of intensive French, Italian and Spanish efforts, cooperation of the entire EU with the countries bordering on the Mediterranean is a failure also because Central and North European countries have thwarted programs for the south. "Since the early 1990s, the European center of gravity has been displaced to the east" summarized Hervé de Charette. "Since the EU's eastward expansion, countries, for which the Mediterranean region is a strategic question, are very much in the minority."[6] Paris, cut off from the German dominated East and hamstrung in North Africa through the "Barcelona Process", is seeking a corrective. These are currently resulting in plans for a "Mediterranean Union" without the non-bordering countries, which in the past have shown little interest. Italy and Spain are participating.

The German Model

Paris' planned format seeking exclusively the participation of nations bordering on the Mediterranean, corresponds to a German interest project seeking similar objectives: the "Council of the Baltic Sea States". This alliance of all countries bordering on the Baltic Sea was founded in 1992 by Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the German foreign minister at the time, and has the objective of promoting economic trade in the EU's northeastern waters. The non-Baltic nations, among them France, have only an observer status. The Council of the Baltic Sea States has a consolidated structure and an institutionalized secretariat (with headquarters in Stockholm), directed by a German politician. The Council receives financial support from the EU's budget and elaborates a strategically important range of topics, such as energy policies and nuclear security. On the whole, this matches the French/Italian/Spanish project for the Mediterranean that Berlin is determined to block under all circumstances.

Defense Alliance

Germany is not merely striving to prevent its French rival from regaining strength. Berlin is pursuing its own concrete interests in North African regions of resources, such as in Algeria and Libya. German energy companies are seeking direct access to the sources of energy.[7] Whereas the strategic supply of Russian raw materials is under German domination [8] and current plans for pipelines to the Middle East ("Nabucco" [9]) include German, while excluding French energy companies, the supplies from North Africa are still in French, Italian and Spanish hands. During the hefty German offensive to take over all of Southwest Europe's energy supply, the German Eon Company's attempt to buy out Endesa, the most important energy company in Spain, inadvertently led to the emergence of a Southwest European defense alliance, (german-foreign-policy.com reported [10]) which now finds its correspondent in the French/Italian/Spanish project of the "Mediterranean Union".

Declines

Who will win the struggle for influence in North Africa takes on even more significance through the fact that France is facing a sharp decline in influence in Sub-Saharan Africa. French President Sarkozy declared last week that he would re-negotiate all military agreements with African countries. These were considered the central element of France's African influence policy. French military bases in Africa will be dismantled - a measure that has been discussed for years and evidently cannot be postponed any longer.[11] Simultaneously, using its EU Africa Strategy, Berlin is seeking to further limit France's influence in its traditional "backyard."[12] Paris' attempt to use the EU's intervention in Chad to its own, rather than Berlin's, advantage is doomed to failure - not least of all because of Germany's refusal to participate.[13]

Crashing

According to the SWP in Berlin, Sarkozy's position is also domestically greatly weakened by "crashing ratings in the polls, worsening growth prognoses and meanwhile public criticism of his methods and personality." "The tension inside the government and the majority party, UMP" is also "evident."[14] This remark refers also to the dissention between the presidential advisor, Henri Guaino, considered as a "sovereignist" and an architect of the blueprint for the "Mediterranean Union" and the State Secretary for EU Questions, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, seen as an "Europhil."[15] Jouyet is in favor of submitting to German demands and renouncing the "Mediterranean Union". The persistence of the German government's blockade in this question is accentuating the contradictions in Paris, weakening "sovereignist" critics of the EU, such as Guaino, and bolstering the pro-integrationist forces. And the perspectives of the core European junior partner being able to reinforce its power to limit German hegemony are dwindling.

[1], [2] Daniela Schwarzer: Krisenstimmung in Paris; SWP-Aktuell 18, Februar 2008
[3] see also Ganz vorn dabei
[4] see also Make Europe work! and Gemeinsame Interessen
[5], [6] Hervé de Charette: Sauvons l'Union méditerranéenne; Le Monde 29.02.2008. See also Miscalculation
[7] see also Verstoß gegen das Völkerrecht, Afrikanische Positionen (I), Streit um Öl and Tragende Säule
[8] see also Area of Natural Gas, Energiekraken, 4,500 Kilometers Around Berlin and Von Spanien bis Sibirien
[9] see also Nabucco and Rollenspiel
[10] see also Sehnsucht nach Spanien
[11] Sarkozy: Frankreich ist nicht mehr der Gendarm Afrikas; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 29.02.2008. See also Offensive in Afrika
[12] see also Schrumpfende Spielräume
[13] see also Hegemonic Rivalry, Schrumpfende Spielräume and Militär für Afrika (II)
[14] Daniela Schwarzer: Krisenstimmung in Paris; SWP-Aktuell 18, Februar 2008
[15] Frankreich: Die bösen Souffleure des Präsidenten; Die Presse 29.02.2008