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reflections

Feb 26, 2008 | 02:51 GMT

4 mins read

Geopolitical Diary: Franco-German Fault Lines Re-emerge

It can be difficult to separate the important from unimportant on any given day. Reflections mean to do exactly that — by thinking about what happened today, we can consider what might happen tomorrow.
The Russians appear to have made their move on the Kosovo issue. They have supported the idea of the mainly Serbian region of northern Kosovo breaking away from Kosovo and rejoining Serbia proper if the region wishes. The Russians also warned NATO and its members not to try to seal the border between this region and Serbia or to try to force NATO authority on the Serbs. The Russians remained vague about what else they might do in response to Kosovo's secession, but they did refer to the possibility of another frozen war in Europe — which we would rephrase as a Cold War. The Russian strategy is to establish the principle that if one ethnic area can secede, any other ethnic area can split as well. In that case, the principle that Europe’s boundaries cannot be changed goes by the wayside. Whether this will evolve into anything more substantial is uncertain, but the door is open. While this was happening, another crisis — quieter and smaller, but not necessarily insignificant — blew up. French President Nicolas Sarkozy was supposed to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Feb. 26 to discuss Paris’ idea of a Mediterranean Union. Twenty-four hours before the meeting was to occur, it was canceled. Sarkozy’s office said the summit was called off because of the French president's busy agenda. Busy or not, Franco-German summits are not normally canceled at the last minute because one side is too busy to attend. The French envision the creation of a Mediterranean Union that in some ways would be analogous to the European Union. This would tie together countries in southern Europe with North African countries, and would include Israel and Turkey. Creating an economic zone in the Mediterranean means some countries — like France — would be members of both the Mediterranean Union and the European Union. These countries would have special relationships in the Mediterranean basin. We also assume the proposed union would create an entryway for doing business in the European Union for non-EU countries that belong to the Mediterranean Union. Berlin obviously is less enthusiastic than Paris about the idea. Germany is not a Mediterranean country, and therefore would not enjoy the direct benefits of such a grouping that France would. In fact, it is not clear what benefits non-Mediterranean EU countries would derive from this relationship. Since Sarkozy wanted an agreement on this, and Merkel was clearly unhappy, the summit was canceled at the last moment and delayed three months. Very little effort was made to hide how divided France and Germany are over the issue. France is a northern European and Mediterranean country located on the plain that runs from the Pyrenees into Russia. It has extensive interests in North Africa and the Mediterranean basin in general. It looks at the world very differently than does Germany, which is entirely a northern European country. Until now, French and German interests harmonized. Now, the French are pressing to reorient themselves away from an exclusive focus on the European Union toward a bifurcated position within the union and in the Mediterranean world. France is in effect trying to redefine Europe, and in doing so is touching every hot button in Europe — from trade to immigration. Indeed, in thinking in terms of the eastern Mediterranean, it is trying to bring Turkey into Europe through the back door and tie Europe to the Israelis. Not surprisingly, the Germans are balking. It is unclear just how far Sarkozy is prepared to go with this idea, which has been kicking around for a while. Canceling a summit at the last minute because he wasn’t getting German agreement on his plan is going pretty far. But the cancellation is far from a signal of a major split between Germany and France. Therefore, we think there is nothing here that won’t be papered over. Nevertheless, fault lines are appearing in Europe. Some are gaping, like Kosovo, while others are barely visible like this contretemps between France and Germany. What is interesting about them is that these are old geopolitical fault lines that divide the French and German approach to geopolitics and that draw Russia into the Balkans in response to Russia's own geopolitical vision. Taken as a whole, these are small matters — but the trajectory is still interesting.

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