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Tony Blair — or Germany — as Europe’s Bridge?

How will Germany balance its various roles with Europe — and across the Atlantic?

November 14, 2003

How will Germany balance its various roles with Europe — and across the Atlantic?

The entire structure of the European Union rests upon Germany, and the continuing European project depends on which bridges Germany maintains — and which ones it may possibly decide to abandon.

When contemplating the future of the French-German alliance in an expanded Europe, one must not lose sight of this basic fact. In essence, it poses the greatest balancing act German foreign policy has ever had to confront.

Meanwhile, the facts remain as follows: First, in opposing the Iraq war, Germany did break one of its basic foreign policy principles — that is, never to choose between France and the United States.

Second, the relationship between the European Union and the United States is too important for France and Germany to presume that they could single-handedly take on the role of decision-maker for all of Europe.

As far as transatlantic relations are concerned, the European Union needs to respond as a whole.

Still, Germany has a central role in this matter that cannot be overestimated. It has been — and remains — a bridge that holds together much of the current internal and external structure of the European Union.

1. Germany functions as a bridge to the United States — as a geo-strategic focal point of Europe. This is true despite the “special relationship” between Great Britain and the United States — and Tony Blair and George W. Bush.

2. Germany is a bridge to France — as the only nation that can funnel France's urge for independence, successfully involve France in the transatlantic relationship — and make the French feel that they are not being marginalized in an expanded Europe.

3. Germany furthermore functions as a bridge, third, to Great Britain — by keeping the withdrawal-prone kingdom on an integration track.

4. It is a bridge to Eastern Europe, which borders Germany.

5. Finally, Germany has always been a mediator and an advocate for the numerous small EU member states.

After years of tension, the French-German partnership is as healthy and solid as ever, which is a good thing. The representation of Gerhard Schröder by Jacques Chirac at the EU-Summit in Brussels in mid-October 2003 is symbolic for the new level of collaboration between the two nations.

Still, not everything in the French-German alliance will remain as it is. In an expanded Europe, the pair will be crucial for continued success, but Germany and France alone will not be enough to make decisions.

Other coalition partners will be needed — in particular Great Britain — when security and defense measures are concerned. The German-French-British summit in Berlin in September 2003, at which the British voiced interest in the French-German defense initiative, was especially promising.

However, the most important concern is that Germany and France — despite their current love affair — may not share similar views on Europe's future.

The Eastern expansion of the EU was never a key foreign policy goal of the French government. Germany, on the other hand, has viewed the growth of the European Union beyond its Eastern border as a quintessential foreign policy objective since the early 1990s.

Unlike the introduction of the common currency, for which both France and Germany had to shoulder heavy burdens, the Eastern expansion of the EU is not necessarily a mutual project in the eyes of the two nations.

It still remains unclear whether France and Germany can really succeed to bring about the institutional structure that is required for an expanded and efficient European Union.

For one, it remains to be seen whether the draft for a common constitution will pass the council conference unscathed — as both France and Germany hope it will.

Second, in spite of the compromise on agricultural subsidies reached between the two nations in October 2002, the financing of the expansion remains uncertain.

To make things worse, France and Germany face long and tough negotiations and debates to accommodate new budgetary and debt requirements taking effect in 2006.

An expanded European Union that is currently working on enhancing its geopolitical dimension cannot continue to spend 50% of its resources on agriculture.

As a result, France has a decisive "deadlocking capacity" over Germany's core concern of European policy: the European Union's eastern expansion. Once before, in 1965, did France use its power to deadlock the EU over questions regarding agriculture.

The German dilemma is that it inevitably needs France for Europe's expansion, but may not be able to pay the high price of a French-designed 'core-Europe' within the European Union — something the French may be hoping for.

A threefold conclusion therefore emerges: First, a core Europe led by France has no chance of succeeding — and even poses grave a danger for Germany.

Second, judging from its role of bridge builder and maintainer, Germany has little maneuvering room for national interests, considering that its ultimate goal is the stability of the European Union.

Lastly, the United States would hence choose a fundamentally unsuitable policy if it continued — as National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice reportedly has advocated — to "ignore Germany."

In fact, the opposite is true: It will depend on the actions of the U.S administration whether Germany can sustain — and is willing to remain — in its role as the five-dimensional European bridge.