No Tandem

PARIS/BERLIN | | frankreich

PARIS/BERLIN (Own report) - France is clearly lagging behind Germany in important targeted regions of its foreign policy. This has been confirmed in a series of studies published over the past few months by the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP). At the same time, Paris has, for the most part, adopted Berlin's foreign policy priorities and - contrary to the 1990s - puts up no resistance to Berlin on basic issues. Paris' policy toward Southeast Europe shows, for example, that Paris had to give up its pro-Serbian policy years ago. The loss of influence that accompanied this fact is still to be felt today. According to the DGAP, in the 1990s, Paris lost much ground in Russia and, therefore even today is no serious competition to Berlin. A similar situation reigns with South America, where France, unlike Germany, does not have the necessary capacity for cooperation with its traditional partner, Brazil. France's loss of political influence vis à vis Berlin is in correlation with its growing economic loss of ground vis à vis Germany.

Great Reservations

An analysis of French policy toward Southeast Europe, published recently by the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), clearly shows France's loss of influence, in relationship to Germany. The analysis recalls that - under pressure from Washington and, what the DGAP does not mention, from Germany as well - Paris had been unable to maintain its traditionally pro-Serb policy in Southeast Europe since the mid-90s. For example, the author of the analysis reports that, immediately preceding the aggression against Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999, President Jacques Chirac, "as is well known," had had, "great reservations toward the bombing attack." Whereas the head of the OSCE observation mission in Kosovo, (US) General William Walker, "clearly had the job of preparing the terrain for a military operation", his French second in command, Gabriel Keller, sought to "keep open the dialogue with Belgrade" but to no avail. France's traditional affinity to Serbia was used, in the end, by the NATO to weaken resistance to the occupation of Kosovo. French soldiers were the occupation troops in the Serb-speaking sector of the province, because it was hoped that "the presence of French soldiers would be (...) easier accepted (...) than the stationing of US, British or German soldiers."[1]

War Propaganda

The analysis published by the DGAP explains that the external pressure applied to Paris in the 90s elicited serious domestic differences. At the beginning of the 90s, for example, leading dailies, such as Le Monde, Le Figaro and Liberation "still found it important" to "maintain a careful neutrality" in the Yugoslav question. Soon thereafter "a pronounced anti-Belgrade position" became predominant, that escalated during the war for Kosovo. "Critical voices were smothered, the Albanians became the icons of universal suffering" according to the DGAP analysis. "This extraordinary media mobilization fitted into the framework of a true NATO war propaganda." With President Nicolas Sarkozy's transformation to a more pro-atlanticist position, France has changed course also in its Southeast Europe policy: "In February 2008, France effusively supported the Kosovo declaration of independence, and the French ambassador in Pristina was among the first to recognize the new nation,"[2] which places Paris' foreign policy clearly in line with the policy prescribed by Germany.

Merely Rhetoric

But not even this shift in policy could stop the decline of French influence in Southeast Europe. "Aside from a few exceptions, according to the author of the DGAP analysis, "in most countries of that region (…) there is no representation of French companies. "In fact, southeast European countries "are no longer on the French political agenda. Even the use of the French language has been "sharply receding throughout the region, even though some countries (Albania, Macedonia, Serbia) have joined the Organization of French speaking Nations (Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, OIF). "France’s engagement for French speaking communities has simply served as a figurehead, the DGAP analysis states without any illusions, "but this policy is often merely rhetoric".[3]

Lagging Behind Germany

France's position in relations with Russia is more favorable, assesses the DGAP. Even though France reacted very "hesitantly to the changes taking place in the 90s and therefore lagged behind, the relations between the two countries have "grown closer since the turn of the century, today with "regular exchanges at the highest levels. According to the DGAP, France is firmly on „Germany's side" in the EU's Russia policy dispute and - like Berlin - is pleading for further rapprochement with Moscow. Still France has not been able to catch up. In spite of its political cooperation, "as a commercial partner, France is lagging behind its most important European partners, especially Germany and Italy.[4]

Grown Weary

Also in South America, France cannot seriously compete with Germany, according to the DGAP analysis. France's relations with Brazil, which had been particularly close in the past, have "grown weary over the past few decades. Even though France had concluded a "strategic partnership agreement with Brazil in 2005 - a move aimed at enhancing the cooperation pursued also by Germany, Paris, today, is in a much weaker position than Germany in its relations with Brazil, analyzes the DGAP.[5] The inner-European competition in relationship to Brazil can therefore be compared to that in relationship to Russia and to Southeast Europe: Overall, France is pursuing the same line of foreign policy as Germany and has given up previous deviating approaches. But France is clearly lagging behind the European hegemonic power.

The Real Hegemon

France's loss of political influence is in correlation with the growing economic distance with which it is trailing behind Germany. With its important cuts in salaries and social spending, Germany has been enhancing its advantages over the neighboring countries. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[6]) In 2009, the German trade surplus in relation to France reached a new record of 27.38 billion Euros. A reversal of this tendency is not in sight, but the increasingly evident inner-European imbalance - also in German-French relations - is becoming more prevalent. In light of the growing foreign political and economic distance with which France is lagging behind Germany, the unofficial characterization of a "German-French tandem" leading the EU, cannot disguise the true leadership relations - the hardly veiled German hegemony.

[1], [2], [3] Jean-Arnault Dérens: Die schwindende Präsenz Frankreichs auf dem Balkan; DGAPanalyse Frankreich No. 9, November 2010
[4] Laure Delcour: Frankreich und Russland. Neue Dynamik für eine besondere Beziehung; DGAPanalyse Frankreich No. 6, Juli 2010
[5] Martine Droulers, Céline Raimbert: Vom Leitbild zur Partnerschaft. Eine Analyse der französisch-brasilianischen Asymmetrie; DGAPanalyse Frankreich No. 8, November 2010
[6] see also Die Frage der Führung and Die Macht in Europa