Schroeder’s gesture

The possibility of advancing the Franco-German axis a step forward has long been a subject of discussion in the two countries. Their close partnership has been tried and tested with success, regardless of the domestic political situation in the two states. Many daring proposals have been made about the future shape of the alliance, but none has been implemented so far. This is, first, due to institutional problems and, second, because neither Paris nor Berlin would want to provoke other European Union members. Their political will, however, was made public in a highly symbolic gesture: Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder announced yesterday that he will not be present at this week’s EU summit in Brussels. Most crucially, Schroeder asked French President Jacques Chirac to act on Germany’s behalf on the second day of the summit on Friday. The two states have chosen this special way to express their determination to proceed hand in hand, functioning as the motor of European integration. The message has been sent in all directions but primarily to the United States and those EU member countries – both new and old – that tend to fall in line with Washington’s policies. The underlying issue, of course, is whether Europe will rise to the status of equal partner with the US or whether it will continue to play the role of a small, obedient ally. London has repeatedly demonstrated that it is more interested in its special relationship with Washington rather than in European unification. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has in the past sided in favor of American hegemony, in a system where Europe plays a subordinate role. He has even criticized the Franco-German vision of a multipolar world as a destabilizing one. The British premier was forced to change his stance and tried to approach Berlin and Paris only when he came under fire after the death of weapons adviser David Kelly. By its nature, European unification can only take place on the basis of consensus. Furthermore, a union of 25 members will obviously have to face many additional problems, as the overwhelming majority of the newcomers will need considerable time to reach European standards and, moreover, to adopt an independent European outlook on international relations. As a result, from now on, the process of European integration will most likely take place on many different levels – we will probably see the emergence of what is commonly known as a multispeed Europe. The latest Franco-German gesture is a signal that it will push this idea.