Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Paris, Bonn renew their tete a tete

The French-German marriage is dead. Long live the French-German marriage. This sums up Bonn's expectations following the vanishing act of West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's "good friend" Valery Giscard d'Estaing and the all-conquering act of France's new Socialist President Francois Mitterrand.

There will be problems, of course: agricultural subsidies, inflation, protectionist leanings, Spain's entry into the European Community (EC). And there will probably be less German psychological dependence on the French partnership in a decade in which post-Nazi European acceptance of West Germany has matured so far beyond the 1960s and 1970s.

About these ads

These should be outweighed by continued mutual interests, however. And the lessened Parisian obsession with individual French glory within the EC could help promote the increased European integration that Bonn is assiduously seeking.

Warm reaffirmation of the French-German friendship is therefore expected to be the outcome as virtually all the new French Cabinet ministers troop to Bonn July 12-13 to be initiated into the intimacies of the frequent bilateral consultations with their West German counterparts.

The timing will allow Messrs. Mitterrand and Schmidt to coordinate their approaches to this summer's Big Seven economic summit in Canada and next fall's North-South summit in Mexico. It will also allow the two leaders to begin tackling at a political level the enormous restructuring and rethinking that is now being forced upon the EC by harsh budgetary realities.

This is how knowledgeable West German officials and foreign diplomats analyze key issues in the French-German relationship:

Europe. It's still too soon after the French political earthquake for West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher to renew his bid for greater European integration. Mr. Genscher surprised other Europeans by launching his idea of a treaty of European unity half a year ago. His aim was, and is, to make sure that this year's hard bargaining in the EC overhaul doesn't bog people down into forgetting the original vision of a united Europe.

A united Europe is not one of Mitterrand's dreams. For now he seems, in the words of one German, "reticent" on the subject. At some appropriate moment in the future, however, the West Germans still intend to propose a treaty solemnizing the European Council of thrice-yearly EC summits and the remarkable informal "European Political Cooperation" that has coordinated Western European foreign policy for the past eight years.

EC leadership. The French-German engine of the past several years will no longer be as exclusive as it once was. Mitterrand seems less intent on showing up Britain or Italy than his predecessor was. French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson, from his years of experience facing the prickly French as a high-ranking EC bureaucrat, is especially intent on doing everything possible to help rather than hinder EC cooperation.

About these ads

This could include -- depending on how the British play their July-December chairmanship of the EC -- widening of the French-German inner axis into more of a French-German-British triangle. Eased EC cooperation could also include less adamant French opposition to expanding the Big Three to a Big Four including Italy.

EC restructuring. Here Mitterrand has not yet tipped his hand. He explained to his partners that he is not ready to tell the late June EC summit where he will go on financial policy and the French-favoring farm subsidies that eat up two-thirds of the strained EC budget.

Communists in government. Chancellor Schmidt has said publicly that Communist ministers in the new French government create no problem for West Germany, since Mitterrand is not dependent on the party for parliamentary support.

Other West German officials second this view -- and add their hope that their reaction may help to calm American alarm. The French Communists will not have access to sensitive information, the West Germans point out. Mitterrand's electoral landslide has demythologized and emasculated the French Communists, they suggest -- and the Cabinet price is well worth it to ensure domestic trade union tranquility and get the Communists' condemnation of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, any Soviet intervention in Poland, and Soviet (equally with American NATO) medium-range nuclear weapons.

East-West relations. Mitterrand has been tougher on the Soviet threat than his predecessor. To Bonn's particular gratification he has already publicly endorsed the need for those medium-range nuclear weapons planned by NATO for the mid-'80s -- despite the fact that France, as a nonmember of the military alliance, has no need to declare its opinion on the issue.

Personal relations. Schmidt and Mitterrand are both working to ensure that they get on well. Communication is still a bit stiff, since the two men share no common language and must depend on interpreters. There are a few wry advantages in this, however. Giscard did not have Schmidt's full fluency in their lingua franca of English and sometimes didn't fully understand their exchanges -- but hated to admit it, according to French sources. Furthermore, the absence of any third person or notetaker at Giscard-Schmidt tete-a-tetes sometimes left the two implementing bureaucracies in the dark about what their chiefs had actually said and intended.

Steel. This potentially hot issue has been resolved by the June 25 European agreement to phase out government subsidies to the industry by 1985. The West German government has given far fewer tax or fuel breaks to its foundries than other EC nations, and it has not given outright subventions of the French sort. The more efficient German industry that has resulted is now being threatened by cheap steel from other countries. Bonn argued, however, that unless agreement were reached it too would have to give government aid or else turn protectionist.

Domestic French policies. West Germany's ruling Social Democrats can only approve the modernization of the laggard French society that is promised by the first Socialist government in almost a quarter century. West Germany's fiscally conservative Social Democrats are sceptical about the Keynesian stimulation professed by their French counterparts. But they are reassured by the pragmatic cast of all of Mitterrand's economic ministers. They believe that inflation -- their prime worry -- will not get out of hand.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.