Courtesy Reuters

Germany and France: the Problem of Reconciliation

IT IS an almost universally accepted axiom that the relations of Germany and France are the corner-stone of European policy. The problems that unsettle these relations are vital today. Yet to understand them completely we must go far back into the past. Ever since the division of Charlemagne's huge empire, covering practically the whole of Central Europe, there has been an acute rivalry for the predominant position on the continent. France, under the leadership of able kings, achieved her unity early and retained it. In Germany, on the contrary, the central power of the Holy Roman Empire became gradually weaker and weaker, while the tendency toward consolidation of individual provinces and countries into separate units proceeded with steadily increasing vigor. This process continued until, after the Thirty Years' War and the religious split between Roman Catholics and Protestants, the influence of the German Emperor had become almost nominal.

The wars for supremacy in Europe waged between the House of Bourbon and the House of Hapsburg fill a long period. After the fall of the Bourbon dynasty, the men of the French Revolution and afterwards Napoleon continued the struggle on the French side. The battle of Trafalgar ended the fight by firmly establishing British sea supremacy for a whole century. The battle of Waterloo smashed Napoleon, and with him France. The Congress of Vienna proceeded to put its seal on a settlement which suppressed for a long time the French ambition for mastery. During the struggle against Napoleonic imperialism Germany fought under the dual leadership of Austria and Prussia. Since the days of the Great Elector, Prussia, by the genius of its rulers -- particularly Frederick the Second, called the Great -- had been carving out for herself a position in the German Reich which eventually led to a protracted struggle for predominance. That struggle was settled in a short war in 1866. Bismarck and Moltke's genius decided the predominance of Prussia, and thereafter the old rivalry between France and the Hapsburgs was

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