After years of apparent estrangement, the Franco-German relationship has enjoyed a remarkable revival in recent months. The flurry of spectacular Franco-German initiatives started in October 2002 with a surprise compromise on the size of EU agricultural subsidies following enlargement in 2004. This major breakthrough, in which each side made important concessions, has been followed by four important policy papers—on justice and home affairs, on defense, on economic policy and on institutional reform—submitted as joint contributions to the EU’s Constitutional Convention. The last of the four outlined a ground-breaking compromise on the future balance of institutional power within the EU, and was released a week ahead of the 40-year anniversary of the Elysée Treaty on January 22, 2003 when further initiatives were to be announced, such as an agreement for cabinet ministers of one country being allowed to participate in government deliberations of the other.
Another equally impressive display of Franco-German policy coordination came in December when Germany?s Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and France?s President Jacques Chirac successfully joined forces to push for early 2005 as the likely date for the opening of the EU?s accession negotiations with Turkey. In a striking exercise of joint leadership, Chirac and Schröder held a crucial and much-publicized emergency meeting with the Turkish delegation at the EU summit in Copenhagen. Together, they convinced the Turks that it was in their best interest to hail the EU?s conditional commitment to open negotiations in 2005 as a breakthrough, rather than to savage it, as the Turkish leadership had initially planned, as yet another repudiation of Turkey?s aspirations to EU membership. The last three months have thus provided ample evidence for the old assumption that France and Germany, when acting together, can shape the EU?s major decisions more effectively than any single country or indeed any other alliance in the EU.
The Problems of Living Together in France
One of the casualties of this new exercise in Franco-German leadership has been UK Prime Minister Tony Blair’s claim to be second to none in setting the terms of the European debate. Nearly all of the first five years of Blair’s Downing Street tenure have coincided with a period in which Franco-German cooperation was broadly ineffective, even non-existent. The Prime Minister eagerly seized on the opportunity to take a lead in the EU debate and to project himself as the driving force behind an agenda of economic reform that could shape and perhaps dominate EU policy for years. Blair’s finest hour came at the EU summit meeting in Lisbon in March 2000 when the EU proclaimed its goal to achieve full employment and to outperform the US in terms of competitiveness by 2010, launching a wide-ranging and largely British-inspired reform program to further liberalize the EU internal market.