To the Editor:
Having spent most of my professional life working in or with European institutions, I hardly recognize the "French Europe" described by Steven Kramer ("The End of French Europe?" July/ August 2006).
From the formative years of the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s, France was, in fact, the odd man out in the process of European integration. Paris was isolated from and frequently in confrontation with her partners on a number of significant issues during that period: the setting up of the European Defense Community (1952), the Fouchet plan (1961), the "empty chair" crisis (1965), and British accession (1961-73). How could that Europe be called French?
For the next 20 years, under the presidencies of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and François Mitterrand, France, together with Germany, frequently managed to exercise leadership in Europe, but certainly not exclusive leadership. The two major realizations of that period, the single market and the single currency, were initiated by the European Commission, and the Benelux countries played a significant role as well. Why then call this period that of a "French Europe"?
Nor is it true to say that French support for European integration was always based on an intergovernmental model. France advocated the single market, but that initiative was not intergovernmental; it resulted from European Community legislation decided by a qualified majority, and it is overseen by the European Commission. The single currency, also backed by Paris, is not intergovernmental either: it is managed by the European Central Bank, which has all the characteristics of a federal institution.
Finally, I cannot agree that the constitutional treaty rejected by French voters in May 2005 was essentially intergovernmental. Like most European treaties, it is quite ambiguous on that score. It provided for more majority voting, more power for the European Parliament, and a greater degree of centralization in the management of external relations. Those are not characteristics of an intergovernmental model.
Philippe De Shoutheete
Director of European Studies, Royal Institute for International Relations, and former Belgian Representative to the EU