October 1, 2009
France and Germany are planning a new treaty of friendship and an array of other joint schemes that could push Britain to the sidelines in Europe, according to sources close to President Sarkozy.
The plan to put Paris and Berlin back at the heart of the stalled European Union covers defence, immigration, a new industrial policy and a drive to loosen what the pair see as Britain’s grip on the European Commission.
The revamped Franco-German axis may include the permanent assignment of ministers in each other’s Cabinets. The initiative would exploit Britain’s situation, with Gordon Brown weakened and distracted by next year’s general election and the decision by the Conservatives to quit Europe’s main centre-right grouping, the European People’s Party.
Paris and Berlin, reverting to the old idea of a two-speed Europe, aim to push ahead with a separate headquarters for European defence and the promotion of industrial champions. Britain wants none of that. The scheme, already far advanced, will follow this week’s repeat referendum in the Irish Republic on the Lisbon treaty, whether the vote is “yes” or “no.”
A casualty of the deal, hammered out in secret and involving all main ministries since last spring, is likely to be Franco-German backing for Tony Blair as the first president of the EU, diplomats said. The post opens if the Lisbon treaty is ratified.
Among alternatives being considered are Felipe González, the former Socialist Prime Minister of Spain, and Jean-Claude Juncker, the long-serving Prime Minister of Luxembourg.
“Tony Blair is a man of the past and the United Kingdom is no longer any model,” said a French diplomat.David Cameron’s advisers said that, regardless of how the Irish vote, he will stick to his pledge to offer a referendum on the Lisbon treaty if it is not ratified by next election — and “not let matters rest there” if it is.
The move may also mean the symbolic appearance of a German chancellor for the first time at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris for the next Armistice Day remembrance, sources said. The Élysée Palace refused to comment, but officials at Verdun confirmed that Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, is expected to attend.
The new Franco-German pact, backed more enthusiastically by Mr Sarkozy than Ms Merkel, will create a new “avant-garde” in an EU that has become diffuse but it is not a return to federal dreams, a French diplomat insisted.
The re-election of Ms Merkel at the head of a centre-right coalition on Sunday has cleared the way for the accord. The renewed partnership could be sealed at the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall next month.
If Ireland votes “yes,” there would not be such urgency and the relaunch could be in the new year. The counter-push by “old Europe” is a product of the global financial crash and Mr Sarkozy’s frustration over his failure to forge a new partnership with Britain and the US. President Obama’s rejection of the French leader’s overtures has infuriated Mr Sarkozy and further alienated him from the “Anglo-Saxons,” whom he blames for the crisis. France’s re-entry to full Nato membership this year has raised German confidence in Paris.
Joschka Fischer, a former German Foreign Minister, said the Franco-German axis had to come into its own again whatever the fate of the Lisbon treaty.
“The centre of gravity of Europe can only be Paris and Berlin,” he told Le Monde last weekend. “Britain has decided to stay on the edge. Italy is... Italy. Poland has a way to come. Spain is buried in deep crisis.”The prospect of Britain electing a Eurosceptic Conservative government is said to have removed any French qualms and Mr Sarkozy has buried the differences with Ms Merkel that dogged the first 18 months of his presidency. He has appointed Germanophile officials, including Bruno Le Maire, his new German-speaking Agriculture Minister, given the task of securing a deal on Common Agriculture Policy spending. Mr Sarkozy and Ms Merkel have found common ground since the crisis of 2008, standing together against London and Washington over bankers’ pay and tax havens.
“There is a common will in Paris and Berlin to break with the ultra-liberalism of a Brussels Commission that has fallen into the hands of the English,” said Enjeux les Echos, a business magazine. “The future is again focused on an economy regulated by states.”