A Nasty Break-Up

Sarkozy’s call for a European referendum on fiscal questions are bound to alienate the German chancellor. But for the future of the EU, the move could prove crucial: It signals that the EU is more than a technocratic leviathan anchored in Berlin and Paris, and squeezed into administrative offices in Brussels.

BREAKING NEWS — The Franco-German couple broke up last week! Even though there is no statement about it, what happened in late February in the current French election campaign may have changed the EU landscape for good. But only if François Hollande, candidate for the Socialist party, wins.

What happened last week? Nicolas Sarkozy announced a referendum on the brand new fiscal treaty agreed by 25 EU member states — a treaty absolutely wanted by Angela Merkel. The French president, until then, never intimated he would call for a referendum, which may have compromised the Franco-German friendship. Maybe the Chancellor would not have been that confident when she gave her full support to Sarkozy on February 6th for the coming elections had she known his position. Maybe she is now dreaming of François Hollande night after night…

EU leaders hate it when the time comes to consult the European people on European matters — and so does Sarkozy; his proposal is no more than a strategic element in his campaign. But Angela Merkel wants her fiscal treaty and this is where François Hollande comes in. He stated that the next referendum will be held with the presidential elections. The legitimacy brought by the French people would allow him to renegotiate the treaty where Sarkozy’s consultation of the people only leaves space for adoption or refusal. Adding Pierre Moscovici’s (director of Hollande’s campaign) statement that the Franco-German relationship should not be wasted by mere political alliances, Angela Merkel now has more reasons to look to the French socialist than further investing in her current relation with UMP conservative party.

Unfortunately or fortunately (that is not the question), we don’t know what is she thinking. She must be in big trouble; she can not assume the EU leadership alone, and if she tries with the potential new president François Hollande she would have to be less conservative and adopt a kind of social-democrat-conservative attitude towards Europe. Which is likely to happen and is very good for European democracy.

On the other hand — always remember that the EU has 27 pairs of hands — European democracy will have to be released of this Franco-German leadership, which is not less than a domination. Consented domination, maybe? This is not to say that the EU does not need any leaders, every group has its leaders; it is only to say that a change at the top of the French state would be the leverage needed to change this leadership, which will in any event have to work with the Germans. This is a change that would open up a space for social reforms in Europe. Maybe it can stop austerity waves that hit Greece, Italy, Belgium…etc.. Maybe it can help those countries with a social perspective which means resolving this crisis by punishing the instigators instead of the people. Maybe.

We have to believe that change in the EU is possible even though the member states’ conservative parties, at the EU level united in the European People’s Party (EPP), have not shown a lot of social and economic progress the last couple of years. A necessary progress which is not only in the hands of François Hollande — but in each European citizen who believes that the EU is not just a technocratic tool.

Read more in this debate: Niels Annen.


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