French Chefs

French Chefs

Mini Teaser: The final effacement of British national sovereignty will probably take place in December at the European Economic Community summit in Maastricht, the Netherlands.

by Author(s): Boris Johnson

The final effacement of British national sovereignty will probably take place in December at the European Economic Community summit in Maastricht, the Netherlands.  John Major, Britain's prime minister, will remove his famous Biro from his breast pocket and initial away the birthright of his people.  The traditional doctrine of national sovereignty, passionately defended by Margaret Thatcher, will be dead.

To judge by the way the intergovernmental conferences are proceeding, the twelve members of the EC will sign a treaty this year to establish a monetary bloc before the end of the decade.  The British government has accepted that Britain will benefit from some saving clause enabling a "future parliament" to take the final decision on the abolition of sterling.  The British government's leverage stops there.  Britain cannot prevent the others in the EC from going ahead outside the Treaty of Rome, by creating a separate Treaty of Monetary Union; when the time comes, one suspects, it will be difficult to stay aloof.  How has Britain been so cornered?  How is it that its ministers and their mandarins seem so, well, impotent?

The European Community, alas, is still ruled by France.  French control has increased, is increasing, and shows no sign of being diminished.  As the pressure tightens on their monetary jugular, Britons along with others in the EC and the world should realize that a Euro-bank controlling the supply of money in Europe, were it to happen, would be just the latest, if the most decisive, triumph of the French civil servants, in particular those who went to the elite Ecole Nationale d'Administration (ENA), the "Enarques."  To speak of conspiracy is not quite right.  It is a chess-like genius for thinking ahead, and dressing up French national interest as the European dream.

The French express their aims, quite explicitly, as a race against time.  From the moment the first East Germans started to arrive in their Trabants, via Hungary, in the summer of 1989, Jacques Delors, EC Commission president, announced in his nasal voice that "history is accelerating."  As the incredible events of that autumn unfolded, the phrase, and its corollary, became the unsnappy slogan of a panicky French government: "Puisque l'histoire s'accelere, il faut que nous nous accelerions nous-memes" ("Since history is accelerating, we too must accelerate").

We must speed up the "building of Europe" said Delors, and the acceleration has indeed been phenomenal.  Since the Common Market was founded in 1957, the Treaty of Rome has only been revised three times in favor of a European union--by the Single European Act of 1986, by creating the EC's 1992 free-trade zone, and by the 1991 twin conferences of monetary and political union--and all three amendments have been supervised by Jacques Delors.  The word "superstate" has a cantish ring.  But it is in reality a fair description of what is conjured up by the Luxembourg draft treaty, which is likely to be approved at Maastricht: a single monetary authority, a joint foreign policy, a powerful supranational parliament, and so forth.

German Threats: Phony and Real

What was never quite clear was why the speeding up was so urgent.  Delors and his henchmen, and the French government, and indeed most other European governments, continually adumbrated a non-specific threat from a united Germany.  Unless this "mini-superpower" were bound into a dense European federation, they warned, it would "roll around like a loose cannon" in central and eastern Europe.  The consequences of this were not spelled out, but they were presumably atavistic and awful.  (It was of course possible--as the former British trade and industry secretary, Nicholas Ridley, showed--to take a diametrically opposite view: that an intensification of European union would merely entrench German domination of the EC.  But then he was sacked for saying so.)

At a meeting of the twelve EC foreign ministers in the Hague last June, the great French foreign policy nightmare appeared to be instantiated.  Here was German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, a man who had offered up an epochal career to the cause of a "united Germany in a united Europe" scarifying all with his suggestion that the community should accord virtually instant diplomatic recognition to Slovenia.  And here was Herr Schumacher, his soft-spoken, bearded spokesman, confusing reporters with his glib references to "Laibach."  How French skin crawled when it turned out that "Laibach" was the old German word for the essentially Teutonic city of Ljubljana.

Roland Dumas, French foreign minister, even went so far as to inveigh against those who attempted to revive "zones of influence" in Europe.  "We have had these in the past," he said, "and it was not the happiest thing."  Austria was his prime target, but, perhaps deliberately, the allusion was left vague.  For France fears, or at least claims to fear, a re-coagulation of the Teutonic tribes of Middle Europe, from eastern Belgium down the paths of the old Saxon migrations to Romania and the Ukraine.

It sounds eery, put like that, and it is meant to.  For the French are deliberately appealing to a kind of loose, reflexive, saloon bar thinking--or its European equivalent.  It should surely go without saying that a united Germany and increased German trading relationships with Eastern Europe have nothing to do with Prussianism, militarism, or revanchism.  But somehow it does not go without saying.  The debate about European union is continually infected by sloppy analogies with another age.  Everyone in Paris merrily equivocates on the concept of "German dominance," as if Deutschemarkpolitik were merely the continuance of war by other means.

The immediate evidence, in fact, is that the German machine is being rapidly thrown out of kilter by its new commitments: 100 billion DMs per year for the eastern l[uml]ander, 30 billion as Danegeld for Gorbachev, inflation, and the rest of it.  And when and if Germany rights itself, what, precisely, is so terrifying about this behemoth?  In the Gulf War it behaved like a lobotomized giant.  As for Austria, its enclitic neighbor, it is so attached to neutrality that it is even prepared to risk failure in its attempt to become a member of the Community.  No, French politicians use the memories of the 1930s and the 1940s as a mere turnip-ghost.  Germany is a threat to France only in the sense that it may sooner or later lose patience with the French system of running the Common Market.

When the federalists speak of the need to "lock" or "bind" Germany in, what they mean is "keep Germany locked in" to a bureaucratic apparatus of their own devising.  From the French point of view, there are many advantages to the EC, and even more to the EC of the near future.  German money pays for French agricultural surpluses.  Important industrial and economic decisions, which in a free market would be taken in Bonn or Frankfurt, are taken in Brussels.  And France, through EC institutions, can gratify its need for self-assertion on the world stage, and perhaps even cock a snook at the Americans.

French Connections

To exploit all this to the fullest, of course, France must have a pretty good institutional grip on Brussels.  This it has.

Far from being a committed cell of homogenized Euro-maniacs, the EC commission is deeply riven on national lines.(1)  For instance, Sir Leon Brittan, the commissioner responsible in the central field of competition policy and anti-trust law, has a "cabinet," or team of six political advisers, in continuous social and professional intercourse with the twenty-five emollient characters of "UKrep," the permanent British government representatives to the EC in Brussels led by Sir John Kerr.

But take that gentlemanly little liaison, square it, cube it, and you have something approaching the swollen, throbbing umbilicus between Brussels and Paris.  It was widely remarked that French Prime Minister Edith Cresson's new government contains Martine Aubry, daughter of Delors; few, however, noted that Pascal Lamy, Delors' chef de cabinet (or chief political fixer) at the EC, was asked by Cresson to perform the same service in the French government, or that an identical offer was later made to Francois Lamoureux, Delors' deputy chef de cabinet.

It is called the "Pink Tide."  They are all somewhere in their early forties; they are French; many of them went to the Ecole Nationale d'Administration; they are members of the Socialist Party; they see France's destiny in self-assertion through the European community.  They include the minister for European Affairs, Elizabeth Guigou with her Cannes starlet looks, and Hubert Vedrine, Mitterrand's supercilious spokesman.  But the most important in Brussels is Lamy.  With his virtually shaven head and parade ground manner, Lamy runs the upper echelons of the commission like a Saharan camp of the French foreign legion.  "I like Pascal," says another chef de cabinet in a quavery sort of voice.  "His mind works like a beautiful machine.  There are so many idiots running about this place that you have to be rude sometimes."

When Delors and Lamy arrived at the commission in January 1986, it was already a profoundly French organization.  It is not just that the everyday language is French: the structure, the "cabinet" system, even the budgetary procedures are French.  At the daily noon briefing, when cyclostyled pap is distributed to the obedient hacks, etiquette still demands that Danish journalists use French to talk to Dutch spokesmen.

Essay Types: Essay