There’s a river, the Loire, which divides France in two.
North of the Loire, France is a Central European country, part of Charlemagne’s Empire, substantially Nordic, that split into French and German components upon the Emperor’s death. The North was destined to survive and condition the continent’s future while it’s Italo-Burgundian half, Lotharingia, was rapidly crushed by the jaws of history.
South of the Loire, France is latin, open to the sun and Mediterranean. It’s something the North rarely forgives them for, and was probably the real driving force behind the crusade against the Albigenses, in which the French born north of the Loire imposed their primacy on the South once and for all.
What’s more, France is also Jacobin. This means that it believes in the validity of decisions adopted centrally, perhaps because on the other side of the Alps, the weight of Europe’s most centralized monarchy greatly surpassed that of local municipalities, which never reached the levels of importance that free cities in Italy and Flanders enjoyed.
Therefore, we definitely find ourselves before a centralizing country, in which everything is decided in Paris, a capital located almost in the geographic center of that north that has dominated France since forever.
It’s easy to understand how, under these conditions, the French consider themselves to be more a part of Northern and Central Europe than Mediterranean, claiming to be constantly treated as such. This particular condition never created any problems as long as the European construction was driven by the so-called “Fanco-German” motor, in which both of the protagonists balanced the other in a perennial competition that exalted the virtues and attenuated the defects of the other.
With Germany’s unification and its subsequent events, the old calibrated equilibrium became just a memory, while the European machine ended up looking more like a 19th century bicycle with big front wheel– Germany– and a small rear wheel– France– that could only count on contributing to the contraption’s stability rather than its forward progress.
It’s an imbalance that, like it or not, France was surely aware of if only for the incessant fierce hammering of jokes on the subject. For example, who doesn’t remember remarks that the German chancellor makes all the decisions while the French president’s only task is to read the final communications?
The only sector in which Paris maintains an unequivocal superiority over Berlin is the military. On the one hand because of a French nuclear component that doesn’t exist on the other side of the Rhine, and on the other a German reticence that still conditions the development of a modern military… One that would have the immediate effect of frightening all of its neighbors.
Therefore, Paris has been acting on the military angle for years to try and balance Germany’s growing superpowers in all other sectors. However, it’s a very dangerous process, as Obama was reminded West Point cadets that “when you only have a hammer, your temptation is to turn all of your problems into nails.” It’s a consideration that might contribute to explaining the excessive adventurism with which French military policies have faced– and provoked– various crises in Northern Africa and the Middle East in recent years.
In any case, however, Paris is still trying to prolong the myth of the Franco-German motor as Europe’s cornerstone by highlighting and exclusively considering its Central European nature, at the same time refusing a more Southern and Mediterranean vision of its role in the continent.
It’s an attitude that, with time, has contributed to unbalancing a growing Europe that has most recently been orienting itself towards the Northeast and its interests, at the expense of the South’s. France’s position, added to that assumed by the numerous countries Rumsfeld defined as the “New Europe,” has in fact concentrated Europe’s vision only on its border with Russia, putting all the other problems second, including the continent’s coexistence with the Middle East.
Additionally, we need to highlight how the French decision, beyond not growing Paris’ role in the EU in any way, had the effect of strengthening Germany while it greatly eroded traditionally preferential relationships that France always maintained with Russia. Not to mention the Arab world’s reaction that it felt abandoned by one of its historical godmothers, “notre mere, la France!” as the Lebanese Maronites would say.
At the same time, in Southern Europe, one of the other EU countries, Italy, was forced to act essentially alone to try and restore some balance between the two Eastern and Southern chess boards, as well as to communicate a little common sense to those that think the dual threat of Islamic terrorism as well as higher and higher waves of mass immigration can be contained without a unified policy and an equitable distribution of the burden.
Some results, it’s true, were achieved, not least the creation of a joint coast guard that was recently announced. However, to enjoy the possibility of always being heard when necessary, Southern Europe should be able to present itself in the EU arena as well as in the Atlantic Alliance like a unified block capable of compelling others to prioritize their problems from time to time as the situation demands.
Italy is not sufficient to do this alone, nor is Spain’s support sufficient, or the formation of a group among the Mediterranean countries, with the exception of France, which is too busy still trying to feel and parading as a Nordic country.
To giant enough weight, the weight that international institutions deem indispensable to grant an audience, France needs to be with us. We can also learn a lot from France, if nothing other than fostering national pride, the ability to say no bluntly and without remorse, and maybe even ostentatiously continuing to follow our dreams without sacrificing them to reality too soon!
Are we asking too much? Probably not, considering that an equilibrium is at stake that in the long run could, if impaired, tumble the entire construction. Therefore, dear Latin sister, think hard and then come join us southerners!