If the mood expressed by the new German governing coalition is that of a strong, conquering Germany, the mood in France is of national decline which needs to be stopped.
By Diana Johnstone
Special to Consortium News
The “Franco-German couple” is a key tenet within what can be called a European theology, an historic mystery transfiguring past enemies into co-guardians of the unifying European spirit.
But while war between them has long since been acknowledged to be totally impractical, on many subjects Germans and French have not evolved to feel or think in the same way. Major currents in the two nations are presently moving in contrary directions on many levels. It is unclear whether these growing countercurrents will culminate in compromise, the victory of one over the other, or open opposition.
On Dec. 8 a three-party coalition took office in Germany. Its political choices are very different from the trends leading up to France’s presidential election next April.
Green for Go
Ampel is the German word for traffic light and that is the nickname of this coalition. Red is the traditional color of the historic social democratic party, the SPD, which came in first, and whose lead candidate Olaf Scholz, rather colorless himself, is the new chancellor, replacing long-reigning Christian Democrat Angel Merkel.
His party has taken on the unwelcome task of grappling with the coronavirus pandemic. As finance minister, Christian Lindner of the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), color yellow/gold, will protect the rich from high taxes and strive to enforce budgetary austerity at home and throughout the European Union.
But the dominant shade of this new regime is Green. The party’s two co-leaders will be on top of both domestic and foreign policy.
Robert Habeck will become vice chancellor, heading a new Ministry of Economy and Climate especially designed for his Green Party. It will oversee the whole economy inasmuch as every government measure must pass a “climate check” in order to be approved. It seems that the main task of this government is to reduce CO2 emissions.
Germany’s rejection of nuclear power had made the country dependent on coal, but the new government calls for phasing out coal entirely and achieving 80 percent of electricity consumption by renewable energies by 2030, faster than previous government goals. This involves accelerated expansion of wind turbines and more gas-fired power plants, although where the gas will come from is uncertain.
Green influence has succeeded in a significant postponement of certification of Russian gas from the completed Nord Stream 2 pipeline, and how much is needed can depend on how cold the coming winter will be and whether or not the wind blows adequately.
Value-Oriented ‘Feminist’ Foreign Policy With a Nuclear Twist
Annalena Baerbock, who had aspired to succeed Merkel as the first Green chancellor before the campaign revealed her mediocrity, nevertheless gets to be foreign minister. She brings to the job a disturbing combination of overconfidence, inexperience and ideological certainty.
At 40, her only known expertise is in trampoline jumping, and she takes over the foreign ministry at a moment of heightened tensions between Russia and NATO. On her second day in office, she rushed to NATO headquarters in Brussels to reaffirm her oft-declared devotion to the Atlantic Alliance.
The foreign policy chapter of the Ampel coalition pact is entitled “Germany’s Responsibility for Europe and the World”. Germany today is feeling big and proclaims its “special responsibility” for Europe “as the largest member state,” and its “global responsibility” as the “world’s fourth-largest economy”. The program gives the impression of Berlin’s determination to throw its weight around, but in close cooperation with an even bigger heavyweight, the United States.
“The transatlantic partnership and friendship with the United States are a central pillar of our international action,” it proclaims, calling for “renewal and dynamization of transatlantic relations with the United States and Canada,” echoing slogans for “the rules-based international order” – meaning rules emanating from Western virtue rather than the United Nations Charter. Germany intends to crusade for “values” everywhere in the world, combating “authoritarianism” and defending minorities such as “LGBTI.”
“NATO remains an indispensable foundation of our security. We are committed to strengthening the transatlantic alliance and sharing the burden fairly.” Although this is not spelled out clearly, “sharing the burden” will be very expensive, and not particularly environment-friendly.
It means dropping all prior objections to storing U.S. nuclear weapons on German soil. It means purchasing the hugely expensive U.S. successor to the Tornado, capable of carrying nuclear weapons, to be flown by German pilots. The excuse given is that “Germany (has) an interest in participating in the strategic discussions and planning processes.” The Green-tinted coalition also wants to acquire armed drones, for defensive purposes only, of course.
When Baerbock was a baby, German Greens were at the forefront of a movement against U.S. nuclear weapons in Germany. But Germany was divided then, and the generation of Baerbock’s parents was showing the world – and especially the Russians – that Germans had become peace-loving. Mikhail Gorbachev was impressed, believed that Russian and Western Europe could live happily ever after in their “common European home” and consented to German reunification.i
Scarcely had capitalist West German taken over socialist East Germany than the mood began to change. With Green Joschka Fischer as foreign minister, Germany eagerly joined the NATO bombing assault on Germany’s historic enemy, Serbia.
E-Cars and the European Market
Some Germans have longer memories than Annalena Baerbock, and the good news is that her appointment appears to have aroused thoughtful Germans to attempt to oppose her belligerent tendencies. On Dec. 5, 27 ex-diplomats and generals issued a call for a “new beginning in relations with Russia.” On Dec. 8, the Freethinkers league issued a call for Nato to leave Germany that quickly began gathering signatures.
So it is possible that widespread dismay over the appointment of Baerbock as foreign minister may spur a counter-movement against alignment with U.S. and NATO hostility to Russia and China.
Meanwhile, Baerbock is interested in business as well as NATO. She sees foreign policy as a way to promote the crucial German auto industry, which is converting to electric cars.
“It is important not to think of climate policy in national terms, but in a European context,” said Baerbock in a recent television interview. Germany, she said, is part of the common European internal market, which is linked internationally. The German car companies primarily produce for export. “Transport policy, foreign policy and climate policy must come hand in hand in the future to tackle the climate crisis,” she observed.
Indeed, and the norms and standards churned out by the European Commission in Brussels, currently headed by German Ursula von der Leyen, will decide which cars can be marketed in the EU and which cannot. The rationale will be saving the planet. Germany intends to become the lead market for electro-mobility producing at least 15 million electric cars in 2030. The European Commission is reportedly proposing that only CO2-neutral vehicles are to be registered in Europe as of 2035.
A Different Wind Blows in France
A very different wind is blowing in France. Let’s start by saying that the French do not easily fall under the charm of Greta Thunberg. Whereas the Swedish schoolgirl has managed to gain influence in Germany, in France she arouses mostly skepticism and annoyance. And much of that skepticism and annoyance transfer to the whole Green movement.
Both have grown since badly-attended municipal elections during the Covid shutdown produced Green mayors who came up with such ideas as banning the city hall Christmas trees because they had been killed, or what the runner-up presidential candidate of the French Green Party declared: “The world is dying of too much rationality, decisions taken by engineers. I prefer witches who cast spells, to male engineers who build EPRs.”
Despite complaints over the decline of math and science teaching in French schools, the majority of the French are not yet ready to give up rationality. Nor to give up EPRs (European Pressurized Reactors).
In fact, in recent months, the increasing alarm over CO2 emissions and climate change has produced an upsurge in support for revitalizing France’s historically large nuclear industry, which had been forced into decline by green opposition. This revival is motivated by the fact that France’s nuclear power plants do not emit CO2 and that they provide a reliable, constant source of electricity both for domestic use and for industry – this at a time of growing alarm over the nation’s dramatic deindustrialization.
Support for nuclear power and for re-industrialization are expressed mainly on the political right, but also by the French Communist Party, which is moribund after decades of subservience to the Socialists, themselves now in drastic decline.
President Emmanuel Macron, a wobbling centrist, after catering to the anti-nuclear lobby, has recently responded to the trend, announcing that France’s future must be nuclear.
As Germany promotes more and more wind turbines, they are increasingly rejected in France for producing too little energy, too irregularly, for posing a serious disposal problem after their relatively short operational period and emotionally, for defacing French landscapes. Citizens movements increasingly oppose their installation, although local governments and farmers welcome the subsidies.
The traditional center right party, the Republicans, has seemed totally sidelined by Macron’s wobbling centrism. So it is rather surprising that the candidate just selected by the party in its primary, Valérie Pécresse, suddenly raced to the head of the polls for the April presidential elections. Her climate program gives a good idea of what is popular in France: construction of six EPRs, and creation of zones where wind turbines cannot be implanted (to respond to citizens’ protests and landscape protection). She would also set the date for transition from gasoline to electric cars in 2040.
Identity, But French
That is not the only area of differences between France and Germany. If the mood expressed by the Ampel pact is that of a strong, conquering Germany, the mood in France is of national decline which needs to be stopped. With this goes the feeling that Germany’s domination of EU policies is a factor in that decline.
It is possible that Germany is overconfident. The German car industry prospers, although the German people don’t necessarily get their share. American financial giants have bought into German manufacturing companies and take home their share of profits, while workers’ jobs are increasingly farmed out to eastern neighbors, Hungary and the Czech Republic, whose skilled workers settle for low wages.
In both Germany and France, the left has tended to abandon its traditional concerns in favor of identity politics, meaning all sorts of identities except their own national identity. Obligatory guilt over Nazism requires Germans to abhor nationalism as the source of all evil, and to cast the aggressive aspect of their foreign policy in moralistic terms: feminism, human rights, rules-based order, anti-authoritarianism.
Guilt (linked to collaboration with the Nazi occupation) is not so strong in France, and the sense of decline is reviving patriotism. However, most of the French left, including its most eloquent orator, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, has recently succumbed increasingly to identity politics, under American influence.
Refusal to recognize that mass immigration might pose problems, and greater concern for “the planet” than for people having a hard time, has distanced the left from the voters it claims to represent. Faced with alarms over possible “replacement” of the native French population by massive immigration, Mélenchon has adopted the term “creolization” to designate what he foresees as a happy blend of differing cultures. This appeals to a certain sector of the young urban intelligentsia, but the electoral result has been a drastic shift of working class votes to nationalist Marine Le Pen.
Now Le Pen faces a rival more nationalist than she is: the journalist Eric Zemmour, who at an enthusiastic rally of some twelve thousand people on Dec. 5 founded his brand new “Reconquest” party intended to “reconquer” France for the French. Before Zemmour, Le Pen was the leading rival to Macron. Now the two of them split a substantial far right vote, putting Pécresse in the lead – for the moment.
Foreign Policy Differences
French national concerns are logically leading to other areas of Franco-German conflict. On foreign policy, the French are relatively discreet, but scarcely share the German loyalty to NATO, the current official hostility to Russia or devotion to Ukraine (which, if brought into the EU, would simply enlarge Germany’s eastern sphere of influence and deepen the competitive threat to French agriculture).
France had hoped to sell its own military aircraft to Germany instead of the nuclear-carrying American heir to the Tornado. Berlin’s emphatic allegiance to NATO is also a way of dismissing Paris’ wishes for a more or less independent European defense.
The French political center, populated by veterans of the U.S.-sponsored “Young Leaders” program (including Valérie Pécresse) are reluctant to stray from the NATO path. But at both ends of the spectrum, whether Mélenchon or Zemmour, opposition to NATO dictates, and to systematic Russophobia are clear. There also exists in France a strong underlying heresy regarding the European religion, since close examination of policies needed to revive the French economy imply serious clashes with EU rules and rulings.
France is historically a centralized country, unlike Germany, and its economy has always prospered from government policy choices. At present, there is growing desire to return to the sort of industrial policy that allowed France to flourish in the 1960s. But industrial policy is ruled out by the EU’s fanatic competition rules.
For example, Zemmour has called for promoting French industry by use of government commands. But EU rules ban “national preference” except in the military sphere. Every offer should be open to the highest bidder, regardless of nationality.
France has higher social protection standards than most other countries, which make it easy for outsiders to outbid French companies on their own territory. There is also the problem that German-sponsored EU rules have forced fragmentation of the public power concern Electricité de France (EDF), weakening the national capacity to develop its nuclear power industry.
The future is uncertain, but one thing is sure: if political disagreements create serious disputes between France and Germany, you can expect most American media to show great understanding and sympathy for the side that defends “our values.”
i I point out the relation between the 1980s German anti-missile movement and German reunification in my memoirs, Circle in the Darkness.
Diana Johnstone was press secretary of the Green Group in the European Parliament from 1989 to 1996. In her latest book, Circle in the Darkness: Memoirs of a World Watcher (Clarity Press, 2020), she recounts key episodes in the transformation of the German Green Party from a peace to a war party. Her other books include Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions (Pluto/Monthly Review) and in co-authorship with her father, Paul H. Johnstone, From MAD to Madness: Inside Pentagon Nuclear War Planning (Clarity Press). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
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