Courtesy Reuters

France in the New Europe

From de Gaulle through Mitterrand, France saw its historic task to be one of repairing the damage of Yalta—the division of Europe into Cold War blocs. Moving "beyond Yalta," it was said, would free Eastern Europe from communism and leave Europe as a whole free from domination by the superpower rivalry. That historic geopolitical change has now occurred—unexpectedly, astoundingly, within only a few years. And the healing of Europe’s division has now been guaranteed by the astonishing disappearance of the U.S.S.R. as a state and an empire. French long-term policy has thus been served. Yet hard dilemmas confront the French in the new Europe.

To some, France emerged a big loser among the winning Western powers. Prior to the Cold War’s passing a divided Europe and a divided Germany profited France geopolitically. France’s main postwar foreign policy stage was Western Europe, and its main dilemma was how to maintain a political edge over West Germany’s ever-growing economic influence.

Thus France supposedly had a geopolitical interest in avoiding both German unification and the end of superpower spheres of influence. In a divided Europe, built on a divided Germany, French overall influence was maximized. By extrapolation, the end of divided Europe meant for France above all else German ascension.

The consequence for the French is a rapid evaporation of France’s ability inside the European Community to be the political/diplomatic engineer of the German economic locomotive in pivotal Franco-German relations. Or worse, with the probable expansion of the EC into a larger European Union—centered geographically more in the east and north—the Franco-German relationship will be put under stress, if not completely thrown into question.

II

In 1989 President François Mitterrand was initially reluctant about encouraging German unification, not as a principle, which he saw as inevitable and right, but as a practical matter—about the pace at which it was coming, the risks West German leaders created by moving so quickly

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