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Europe’s most powerful personages on Tuesday signed a treaty for the “unification,” of Western Europe’s biggest countries. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel inked the deal at Aachen/Aix la Chapelle. It was there in the chapel that Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer had knelt at Holy Mass to celebrate the signing of the 1963 Franco-German treaty of cooperation that sealed their peoples’ vow of friendship and cooperation. In the ensuing half century, it produced just that. France and Germany became the core of the Common Market and then of the European Union.
Today’s treaty, its pretensions notwithstanding, is between regimes that are overwhelmingly occupied trying, with decreasing success, to fend off domestic challenges to their legitimacy. The treaty is a desperate attempt by France and Germany to change the subject from their internal struggles. Nevertheless, the treaty cannot but have major and deleterious effects on intra-European relations as well as on relations between Europe and the United States.
In 1963, de Gaulle and Adenauer had hoped for even greater coordination in foreign and defense policy as well but, under U.S. diplomatic pressure, the German Bundestag added a clause to the treaty’s ratification that privileged the Federal Republic’s defense relationship with America. By contrast, the 2019 treaty’s main thrust is to sever that clause. The two countries will act “as a single unit with regard to relations with third countries.”
Lest there be any doubt, the final sentence reads: “The admission of the Federal Republic of Germany as a permanent member of of the United Nations Security Council [where it would share France’s seat] is a priority of Franco-German diplomacy.”
For other European countries, and for the United States, Macron and Merkel’s real domestic worries matter far less than the fact that, henceforth, the European core’s main weight will be wielded in unison.
Rules notwithstanding, the EU never was a club of equals. As the years passed, and especially after the advent of the Euro and the European Central Bank, Germany became primus inter pares, and then more to the point, other states learned that Berlin was the place to ask for EU favors, and Germans the folks to blame for not getting them. Henceforth, with Berlin and Paris jointly at the helm, other countries will wonder whether asking or blaming will be of any use. The EU will do whatever the two will dictate to Brussels from their joint councils of ministers.
The EU has always suffered from a “democratic deficit.” Europeans have rightly felt largely excluded from decisions affecting them. Henceforth, that exclusion will be greater and the EU’s legitimacy will decline even further.
The United States will now be faced with continental Europe’s two major powers asserting not so much a common affirmative defense policy as a common non-defense policy. When it comes to foreign affairs, the United States is far less likely to enjoy automatic joint support than automatic joint attempts at backseat driving. At the U.N.—for all that matters—the United States is likelier than ever to be completely isolated, leading Americans to value that institution ever less.
In sum, the new Franco-German core is sure further to erode the EU, NATO, and the United Nations. But even as the French and German alliance is poised to disrupt so many international institutions, it is soft inside because it arises from both regimes’ alienation from their own peoples.
Neither has France’s Macron found, nor is he likely to find, a way of appeasing the anger that the French people, via the “yellow vest” movement, have demonstrated for the way they have been governed for a half century; nor have Merkel and her allies on the traditional Left and Right been able to stanch the hemorrhaging of their electoral support, for reasons that differ little from those that motivate France’s yellow vests. France’s 1958 Fifth Republic constitution and Germany’s 1949 Grundgesetz largely insulate the respective governments from immediate popular pressure. But these governments’ alienation from their citizens is substantive and cultural. It is not such as can be healed by time—or by treaties.
Charles de Gaulle, Konrad Adenauer, and the people then in leadership positions in their countries were in basic sympathy with their peoples’ civilization. They wanted to keep France French and Germany German. As Catholics, the notion of enforcing the religion of “global warming” would have been repugnant to them, as would any of the current, ever-changing dictates of “political correctness.” They did not imagine themselves regulators of energy usage or of the details of life. As nationalists, they rejected the notion of supranational institutions beyond the peoples’ electoral control.
In all these regards, Merkel and Macron, and their recent predecessors, have abandoned their peoples. The abandonment is mutual. Consequently, their regimes are rotting. On January 22 they took another step that transfers this rot to the international institutions of which their countries are part.
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Photo Credit: Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images