It’s not every day that Americans ought to pay attention to France. Then again, these are far from ordinary times.
The simple fact is that Europe is now way more important than our leaders are giving it credit for, and France is the most important country in Europe. Don’t be fooled by all the press that Germany has gotten since the financial crisis. A couple years ago, there was an almost universal consensus that, love it or hate it, Germany controlled Europe’s destiny — because it controlled Europe’s finances.
As students of political history have known all along, however, there’s more to international relations than money. It was painfully clear in 2008 that Germany couldn’t bankroll Europe’s way out of its economic doldrums, which mattered most because of their political implications.
Plus, Germany was far more interested in clinging to the pretense of fiscal responsibility than bailing out the Mediterranean countries like Greece, Spain and Italy, which sank into the Continent’s worst jobs funk.
Now, we’re hitting a crisis point in the cultural politics of Europe’s failed money-first plan for a more perfect union. Just last year, pillars of the global media establishment, like the Economist, still spoke glowingly of Germany’s status as the most powerful country in Europe. In the wake of Europe’s most recent wave of elections to the EU Parliament, however, that picture has been hopelessly complicated.
Anti-EU parties have swept to power, and nowhere with more force than in France, where Marine Le Pen’s National Front has scrambled familiar ideological battle lines and upset both the socialist left and center-right. Ms. Le Pen is shameless in her condemnation of German-led Europe, and the superficially strong, but deeply uneasy, balance struck by German leadership hangs in the balance.
Today, France is the only European country sufficiently large, stable and self-important to provide an alternative to German leadership. Getting out from under the EU’s regulatory rule and Germany’s financial domination will have to be a broader effort than France alone can muster. But that effort won’t come together without French leadership.
So it’s hugely important that Marine Le Pen has already publicly reminded Germans that her country, not theirs, is the “political heart” of Europe.
What Americans have missed is just how hollow the EU’s promise became — and how different a promise France can make Europe. In an effort to escape any kind of nationalist domination, Europe put its hopes behind the power of money to unify the Continent. All it took was one economic meltdown to show that a project so sweeping needs more than green eye shades to capture the hearts of millions.
Whereas the EU can deliver openness and togetherness in good times, in bad times it offers mostly red tape, deficits and bureaucrats. What’s more, bad times reveal just how much more Europeans want than a nice feeling. Thanks to the justifiably lingering ghosts of World War II, Germany can’t lead Europe in a politically inspiring way.
So the task falls to France. Surely Britain, Italy or Poland can never do the job. Whatever the French are becoming in the process, the time is over when they could be safely lampooned as cheese-eating surrender monkeys.
From the Orange County Register