France: an eu founder member cut down to size? Helen Drake, Loughborough University, uk



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FRANCE: AN EU FOUNDER MEMBER CUT DOWN TO SIZE?

Helen Drake, Loughborough University, UK

h.p.drake@lboro.ac.uk

Paper to be delivered to the EUSA Ninth Biennial International Conference

Austin, Texas, USA

31 March-April 2, 2005

Panel 11E

NB. This is work in progress and should not be cited, please, without my permission.


FRANCE: AN EU FOUNDER MEMBER CUT DOWN TO SIZE

Helen Drake, Loughborough University



I Introduction1

As EU founder member, France soon came to equate mere presence with automatic influence over la construction européenne. This sense of rightful inheritance, or ‘presence héritée’ (Floch, 2004a) meant that for decades, size per se was not a conscious issue for French leaders, other than as a convenient safeguard of its power. More broadly, belief in French global prestige – a combination of le rang (rank) and la grandeur (greatness) – ensured that successive French leaders took for granted, and actively promoted, France’s leadership role in the integration process. Measured by these criteria, France was simply the best, and to this day, for some, still projects a superiority complex: a stereotypical reputation for arrogance, if not ‘autism’ in its EU routines, especially its Council presidencies (Costa and Dalloz, 2005; Gubert and Saint-Martin, 2003). Indeed, Floch (op. cit. 117) refers to this reputation for arrogance as a ‘subjective fact’ which has to be taken into account by France’s policy-makers. This is a set of images best embodied by Charles de Gaulle (President of France, 1958-1969), for whom la grandeur was most definitely not a matter of vulgar size, but was ‘a more archaic and abstract ideal’ (Anderson, 2004a: 5), and on which hinged French national identity in the post-1958 Fifth French Republic. But as Anderson also notes, this was a discourse ‘that appeared even to many of his [de Gaulle’s] compatriots as out of keeping with the age’ (ibid), and in the contemporary EU, French presence and influence certainly no longer go unchallenged: the inheritance has been rudely contested.

The challenge is primarily qualitative, since by 2005, France had already agreed to cut back the numbers of its Council votes and MEPs in comparison to Germany, and was thus henceforth faced with the uphill task of making its diminished presence work harder. It is also self-evidently a question of relative size, since France has compared increasingly unfavourably to other ‘big’ member states in terms of influencing debates and outcomes. A fundamental aspect of this subject is the loss of formal parity between France and its most favoured EU partner, Germany. As a result of Germany’s unification, changing self-image, and increasingly successful demands for the numerical recognition of its super-sized (relatively speaking) population, France is now officially smaller than its neighbouring big state; this has had some impact on the mechanics of the relationship, and on broader French strategy in the EU, which we explore below.

Another crucial factor to consider when discussing size in the case of France is the 2004 enlargement to EU25, which raised such acute questions of power differentials between member states, and which effectively challenged France to substantiate its historical claim to grandeur by results, not just reputation. Indeed, in the ‘new’ Europe, French influence is diluted not only by numbers, but by the force of visible cultural, ideological and generational change. It is not that other member states are not affected, but that the gap between past and present is so sensitive in the French case. Thus Magnette and Nicolaïdis write that France was the ‘main candidate’ for the ‘Lilliput syndrome’ brought on by the 2004 enlargement, whereby the ‘big countries’ picture themselves ‘as giants potentially held back by a crowd of mini-countries’ (2004: 74). Yet another part of this picture is precisely the decline in France’s reputation within the EU, brought about by a number of developments which we explore below, but which include a record of defensive diplomacy, and an insistence on upholding the symbols and trappings of power.

In this context, where greatness is no longer a guarantee of French power or thus influence, tactical and practical questions of ‘big-ness’ have increasingly come to preoccupy French politicians; put in other, cruder terms, France has been cut down to size, which matters like it never did before. In what follows, we first examine the criteria by which France’s claims to EU influence have traditionally been measured – the political, administrative and linguistic advantages that accrued to France during the so-called ‘golden age’ of l’Europe à la française. We then, second, review the developments that have challenged this perspective, including the critiques that have emerged from within France itself, some of which have been attached to a more generalised wave of criticism of France’s perceived national decline. Third, we outline the ways in which an increasing consciousness of size has shaped French behaviour in an enlarged EU, beginning with the pivotal Nice summit of December 2000, and culminating with the signature of the Rome Treaty in October 2004; our analysis here includes an evaluation of the evidence of domestic change and awareness, and also notes the battles for symbolic and prestigious presence which are ongoing (such as over the use of the French language in the EU’s institutions), and which to many seem rearguard, and defensive. In our conclusions we raise the possibility that what matters most for France, and for an understanding of its EU policy into the near future, is not only the relative size of the member states themselves, but the size – and specifically, the borders – of the EU itself: can the French still identify with the EU of the 21st century?

II How Big is Great? The ‘Golden Age’

Jacques Floch, in his presentation of the French National Assembly’s EU Delegation report on France’s ‘presence and influence’ in the institutions of the EU (2000a), began by reminding the other deputies of the ‘golden age’ (his inverted commas) when France could consider its influence as a natural, self-evident right that flowed from its status as the founding member of the EEC. Floch distinguished between the political, administrative and linguistic sources of French influence in Europe.

Political Leadership

According to this perspective, France’s political importance derived primarily from the status and achievements of the two original French proponents of the integration process, Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet. Between them they effectively launched the ‘Monnet method’ – which was in fact responsible for the ‘original bargain’ that sought to protect small states in a framework governed by the principle of equality (Magnette and Nicolaïdis, 2004: 69). The Schuman-Monnet pedigree has indeed guaranteed France a leadership status in the EU, particularly since it can also be argued that they were the most prominent examples of a succession of French ‘statesmen of interdependence (Duchêne, 1994) in fact stretching from Aristide Briand in the early 20th century, to former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing in his role as President of the Convention on the Future of Europe, 2003-04. These influential figures include, notably, two Commission Presidents for a total of 14 years: François-Xavier Ortoli (1973-1977) and, memorably, Jacques Delors (1985-1995); and numerous of the European Parliament’s Presidents, including Robert Schuman (1958-1960), Georges Spenale (1975-1977), Simone Weil (1979-1982), Pierre Pflimlin (1984-1987), and Nicole Fontaine, 1999-2002.

Size as quantity has thus not been an issue in this respect, particularly since to these examples we could add those of France’s statesmen of independence, particularly its Presidents of the Fifth Republic, from Charles de Gaulle to Jacques Chirac, all of whom contributed to the advance of European integration by means of their support for key initiatives (such as François Mitterrand’s backing of the single European market in the mid-1980s); or their role in generating ideas and pursuing them into practice (Mitterrand, again, regarding Economic and Monetary Union in the early 1990s). This historic record of influential French ideas and intellectual leadership – contributions to the idea or finalité of Europe (see Moreau-Defarges, 2003) – is rooted in reality, but was highly dependent on German support, and appears to have inadequately prepared French mentalities for the work of compromise and alliance politics which increasingly characterise the EU25.

The Administrative ‘Architecture’

Floch underlines the resemblance between French administrative law and the legal edifice of the EU, as well as the influence of the French administrative state more generally on the ‘administrative architecture’ of European life (the concours, the cabinets and so on). Other perspectives on this situation exist; Mangenot (2005), for example, demonstrates how difficult the French administrative legal establishment has found it to accept the primacy of EU law, let alone the existence of a separate, EU legal order with its own culture and conventions. To this day, moreover, France still has one of the worst records in the EU15 regarding the transposition of EU directives into national law, transgressions of EU law, and challenges to the rules on state aid.

Nevertheless, it is the also case that France has consistently succeeded in placing its own people into many senior positions within the EU’s administrative machinery; in quantitative terms, therefore, French influence within the EU’s administrative corps is significant. By Floch’s reckoning (2004b: 119) France in 2004 occupied around 12% of the EU’s administrative posts, in contrast to 9.3% and 7.1% for Germany and the UK respectively; with 45% of these French-filled posts at the highest level, until recently known as category A. Amongst the EU15, this gave France the highest number of senior posts in the Commission, in contrast to the fourth highest in the Council where, however, a significant proportion of these were at the highest levels of all. It is not difficult to find a slightly different perspective on these figures, quite apart from the arguments regarding quality (as opposed to quantity), which we develop below. This is that senior French presence in the Commission is seriously rivalled by that of Germany; and that Britain has now for some time been well represented in the highest echelons of the Commission and the Council (David Williamson’s role as Commission Secretary-General in the 1980s being an obvious example; Robert Cooper’s role as advisor to Javier Solana another; and Pierre de Boissieu, Deputy Secretary-General of the Council’s choice of a British chef de cabinet, David Galloway, yet another). The Kinnock Commission reforms, moreover, sought to root out precisely the sort of cultural norms in the Commission that made the scandal of former Commissioner Edith Cresson’s nepotism rather less likely. Finally, it must be noted here that Jacques Chirac’s appointment of Jacques Barrot to the new Commission in 2004 (in which France, of course, has only one Commissioner in contrast to its previous right to two), attracted much negative commentary regarding his age (at 68, one of the most elderly of the Barrosso Commission), and linguistic limitations (non-English speaking), widely portrayed at the time as evidence of France’s declining intellectual clout in the EU.2

Language and identity

To the extent that French impact on the EU’s administrative and legal edifice derives in part at least from the dominant use of the French language, it would appear that while linguistically-speaking, French ‘was still the principal medium of the European bureaucracy of the Community, down to the 1990s’ (Anderson, 2004a: 7), it has since come under serious challenge from the rise of English. Floch’s report (2004a) limits itself to the rather obvious statement that French enjoyed a privileged position in the EU by virtue of the objective fact of the EU’s institutions being implanted in French-speaking locations: Brussels, Luxemburg and Strasburg. If this were the whole story, then the precipitate decline of the use of French would not be an issue of significance in France’s relations with the EU. However, Anderson also tells us that the ‘rise of English as a universal language’ (ibid) has not only ‘struck at the foundations of traditional conceptions of France’ but, because of its identification ‘with the idea of French civilisation – somewhat more than just a culture’ has removed ‘one of the most important props of national identity’.

Ascertaining the extent to which this is the case is not entirely straightforward, although it is no secret that the 2004 enlargement has equated to a significant growth in the use of English – and a parallel decline in French – in the EU25, both as official working language, as ‘relay’ language for the largely non-existent interpreters of, say, Maltese to Estonian; and as the unofficial working language in those 40 or so Council working groups where interpretation is no longer available on the house.3 Officially at least, as we see below, the use of the French language still functions as an important measure of relative French influence in the EU – meaning that size, defined as quantity, does matter in this instance. Yet this same battle is regarded by some within the French political establishment as rearguard, and thus of limited importance4. Nonetheless, one does not have to be a linguist to acknowledge that language does convey concepts and ideas, and that the impact of le tout anglais into policy frames is as much reality as paranoia, hence the French dilemma.5

To Floch’s three-part analysis of the heyday of French influence in the EU we must add the Franco-German relationship, which was as much of a symbol of the peak of French influence as any other measure, and which mattered greatly, size-wise, in both quantitative and qualitative terms. The mechanical combination of the two biggest member states’ votes and voices, and the coalition politics surrounding this unique bilateral relationship over the years, brought about a number of the EU’s most definitive changes, such as the Maastricht Treaty, particularly its provisions for economic and monetary union. Almost as tangible was the ‘deference’ accorded the ‘Franco-German engine’ (Magnette and Nicolaïdis, op. cit., 74) by other member states. The currency of this relationship has without doubt declined in value and, in particular, the notion of a directoire is to date tolerated by the other member states only in matters of EU defence or foreign policy, largely because of the presence of Britain; and positively resented in most other policy domains. The shadow of the 1960s Fouchet Plans, with their provisions for a Franco-German led ‘Union of States’ is still in living memory (Schild, 2004: 12), and the relationship in the early 2000s did contribute to a ‘poisoning’ (op. cit.) of the atmosphere in the EU, particularly with regard to their direct challenge to the Eurozone’s Growth and Stability Pact in 2003; for Schild, this was received by other partners as a classic case of double standards, with different rules for different member states, according to size. Thus, not only has France effectively shrunk within its own special relationship, the unique bilateral friendship with Germany; this has occurred at precisely the time when the relationship itself has found its wings clipped.



III When Grandeur Is Not Enough: Making Size Matter

In France, the mid-2000s heard a rising number of concerned voices about France’s ‘influence deficit’ (Bertoncini and Chopin, 2004: 45) in the EU, of which Floch (2004a, 2004b), and others within the political establishment. In contrast to the striking note of defeatism which permeated media and political circles at the same time, by way of a raft of literature proclaiming French national ’ (see Meunier, 2004; Anderson 2004a and 2004b; and Drake 2004b for discussions of the ‘declinist’ thesis in French political commentary), the principal voices evaluating the flaws in France’s ‘presence’ in the EU (Betbèze, 2003; Bertoncini and Chopin, 2004; Floch, 2004a, 2004b; Lanxade, 2002) aimed for a more objective assessment of the facts. Moreover, they allowed themselves optimism based on the argument that a quantitative dilution of French influence (through EU enlargement) does not automatically spell decline, since the quality of French presence in the EU is open to improvement. In this regard, the troubled French EU Council presidency, which culminated at the Nice summit in December 2000, had already triggered a perceptible shift from defensive diplomacy to more constructive Franco-EU relations, based on what we might call lateral thinking, regarding the interpreation of questions of size.

Size as Quantity: The Lessons of Nice, December 2000

The French EU Council presidency of July-December 2000 culminated in the Nice Treaty, whose main purpose was to ready the EU’s institutions for the 2004 enlargement, with particular reference to the relative weight of the member states in terms of votes and seats. Taking more sensitive account of population size was never going to be straightforward or easy in EU25, given the interests involved in such questions of relative national power (defined by size). Indeed, in Magnette and Nicolaïdis’ terms, ‘(...) never before had the symbolic character of voting weights been so apparent: France strongly refused the claims [to extra Council votes], of a unified Germany now much larger than the other states, and preserved a unique category for the big ones, in the name of the solidarity between the Founding states.’ (2004: 76) But although the Franco-German ‘deal’ was maintained as such, the mere fact of the challenge mounted to it by Germany amounted to its demise. Henceforth, French relations with its most favoured partner would become less predictable, and harder work.



The Franco-German relationship indeed remains key to any attempt to interpret or unravel France’s thinking on Europe since the hollow victory of the Nice summit, and can be taken as an indicator of change in French attitudes.6 At institutional and symbolic levels, the Franco-German friendship has undoubtedly been strengthened, via excellent cooperation in the Convention, and the renewal in January 2003 of the friendship vows taken forty years earlier in the form of the Elysée Treaty, points to which we return below. But Germany’s leadership is neither as stable, pliant, or dependable as it used to be in its relations with France, and it is intent on forging a full and independent role for itself in the EU and beyond. Faced with this reality, French perceptions of its priorities have altered: its strategic objective remains the exercise of French influence, through ideas as well as institutions, in the EU and beyond. But servicing this objective has required tactical, even ideological shifts, and the replacing of the ‘parity pact’ with Germany by a more pragmatic nurturing of Germany’s emerging political power is one indicator of ongoing intellectual change amongst France’s leaders.

At Nice, for example, the Franco-German Council deal had necessitated the creation of ‘quasi-large’ states, noteably Spain and Poland who, along with the small states, were effectively ‘bought off, one after another, with a couple of extra votes’ (Gray and Stubb, 2001: 15). Subsequently, in the Convention on the Future of Europe, Spain and Poland fought hard to maintain their surprisingly advantageous Nice deal. By then, however, the French President had turned a corner, precisely within the context of France’s improving relationship with Germany (following the 2002 elections in both countries): not only did he no longer cling to notions of formal parity with Germany, but he positively shunned the Nice deal in favour of a Council majority rule more favourable to the truly ‘big’ member states. While the extent to which the French Council presidency of 2000 was so troubled, moreover, can to be laid at the door of the political cohabitation between French President and Prime Minister in a pre-electoral period (Drake, 2001), it is also the case, however, that the most efficient presidencies are increasingly associated with the smaller member states; and France, in this respect, is a good example of the pitfalls of ‘big’ when in the Council chair (Costa & Daloz, 2005).

A more obvious and immediate cost to France of maintaining symbolic parity with Germany in the Council at Nice was a reduction in the number of its seats in the European Parliament (alongside its agreement to lose one of its two Commissioners in a deal ‘in which all Member States could claim some success’ (Gray and Stubb, 2001: 15)) Under the terms of Nice, France (along with Britain and Italy) was to lose 9 EP seats, while ‘Germany was given 12 more seats than the four other big states under the [previous] system, thus breaking the taboo of institutional equality with France.’ (Magnette and Nicolaïdis, op cit., 91, my emphasis.) France thus saw its ‘size’ in the EP reduced from 14% to 10% (of seats), while Germany’s relative reduction (after enlargement) was from 15% to 13% only (Floch, 2004a: 117); the differential was now 21 seats. It was in relation to this particular development that a detectable shift subsequently occurred in the tone of French political discourse regarding French influence in the EU; namely, an insistence on quality as well as quantity as a source of influence.

Size as Quality: Room for Improvement

Between the ‘strange affair’ (Cole, 2002) of France’s 2002 presidential elections (where Chirac’s victory came at the expense of a damaging blow to France’s image amongst its EU partners, in the form of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s presence in the second-round run-off) and the June 2004 EP elections, a view emerged from within the French political establishment that the impact of the French presence in the European Parliament was cause for concern (see Floch, 2004b; Bertoncini and Chopin, 2004; le Monde 2/3/04). Compared with delegations from other large member states (including the UK), French MEPs saw themselves admonished for absenteeism, underwhelming performances in plenary and committee sessions, and unhealthily attachments to notions of influence that were at odds with the realities of power politics in the EP, and between the EP and its partner EU institutions. There were obviously individual exceptions to this rule; nevertheless, en bloc the facts were damning.

A key point concerned the dispersal of France’s (now) 87 MEPs between a high number (currently, six) of the EP’s political groups. Thus after the 2004 EP elections, France had 78 out of 732 MEPs (previously 87 out of 626), as before scattered between the highest number of political groups of any other large national delegation. It has been argued (le Monde 18/11/04) that since June 2004, these MEPs are in fact slightly more concentrated in the EP’s three biggest groups (the EPP, the PES and the DLA), which together account for 59 of the total of 87, and that they thus have slighter greater visibility than before. They also include a number of Committee presidencies, in policy domains which from 2005 will be subject to QMV (such as the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs – Jean-Louis Bourlanges), and Economic Affairs. Since the role of French MEPs in the EP’s committee life in particular came under fire in, for example, the Floch (2004b) and Bartoncini & Chopin (2004) reports – for their tendency to favour participation in prestigious policy areas (such as foreign policy and defence) rather than influential, legislative fields – this can be seen as a sign of new, improved tactics. It is also the case that the underlying reasons for the poor reputation of French MEPs (on average) have been addressed at the highest level.

Thus, in President Chirac’s televised press conference on 29 April 2004 (le Monde, 29/4/04), at the beginning of the EP election campaign in France, the President announced, effectively, that France would henceforth be taking seriously the EP’s role in the EU policy process. Chirac on this occasion portrayed the European elections as an opportunity for France to secure its national interest in an increasingly powerful European Parliament (EP). While this intervention could be seen as constructive, as it forcefully endorsed the significance of the European elections, it has to be taken in context. Chirac’s support for the European Parliament’s institutional status on the one hand, and his message of encouragement to French MEPs on the other, represented something of a departure for Chirac. Up until then, the French President had been willing to pursue the traditional French line of talking down the European Parliament – other than the symbolic and economic significance of its part-time seat in Strasbourg – and virtually ignoring the potential role of French MEPs in formulating or negotiating French policy towards Brussels. As Bartoncini and Chopin forcefully declared in 2004 (p.6) ‘La France a, jusqu’à présent, peiné à prendre le Parlement européen au sérieux et à lui accorder une attention, voire une considération, à la mesure des pouvoirs qu’il détient’.7 His change of heart is thus to be seen as part of Chirac’s ongoing strategy to arrest the decline in France’s influence in an enlarged EU, that we have already touched upon here.

There are limitations to the extent to which this strategic swing can achieve results. Contemporary French political culture, in which the role of parliament is notoriously weak (op.cit, 13), is unlikely to change overnight despite the President’s plea – although since the Maastricht Treaty there has been a gradual drift in France towards closer consultation of French Parliament by the French executive on European affairs, a trend which will be strengthened if and when the EU’s Constitutional Treaty comes into force. On the other hand, France’s above- average multipartyism shows few signs of being tamed into a neater Left-Right, bipolar opposition, which perhaps could flex more muscle in the EP; in the wake of the shock of 21 April 2002, for example, a government reform (in April 2003) of the mechanics of proportional representation in regional and European elections was pushed through Parliament. The reform was intended to reinforce the bipolarity of France’s party system, by forcing mainstream and marginal parties alike into tactical electoral alliances; In the specific case of the EP elections, the reform was also unconvincingly dressed up as bringing the voter closer to his/her elected representative (la proximité) by regionalising the vote. Yet, as seen above, the result was as great a dispersal of French MEPs between parties and groups as before; and even in the case of the French Socialists, whose victory ensured them the largest national delegation within the PES, criticism regarding their collective influence has continued, and is ongoing; moreover, even as the biggest delegation in the PES, they still only represent 21% of the total number of French MEPs, compared with the (smaller) German or British representation, accounting for 35% and 33% respectively: the absence of critical mass is striking (op. cit, 65).

It is also the case that for some, the French insistence on maintaining – and sustaining – Strasburg as the second home of the EP is of largely symbolic and limited significance. Whereas Floch (2004) is insistent upon France’s right to uphold the Strasburg seat, and portrays it in positive, not defensive terms, Bertoncini and Chopin (2004: 46) are far less complimentary, noting that the Strasburg battle – like the struggle for the French language in the EU’s institutions – may well be justified, but has nevertheless not translated into greater policy-making influence for the French, and is unlikely to do so. For them – and as raised earlier, this is not a lone viewpoint – both the Strasburg and language issues, by dint of being made into great ‘national causes’ associated with the old questions of le rang and la grandeur, have absorbed inordinate amounts of French diplomatic energies for little profit since, however ‘noble’ the fight, it is no substitute for a rounded strategy of influence.

This did not prevent the French political authorities from launching an action plan in 2002 to stem the decline in the number of existing and new French-speakers in the enlarged EU. Floch (2004b), for example, refers to the French National Assembly’s 2003 worrying statistics on the use of French in the EU, expressing particular concern for the sharp reduction in the use of French for initial document drafts (Herbillon, 2003). The plan covers French language tuition for member state nationals working for the EU, in Brussels; software to facilitate drafting in French; intensive French immersion courses for high-ranking Commission officials, including Commissioners themselves, in the summer of 2004, in Provence; and an insistence that the 2004 administrative statute stipulates knowledge of a third working language as a requirement of service.8 This is a plan devised under the auspices of France’s broader objectives for la francophonie – the French-speaking world, a context in which the global dominance of the English language is seen to run the risk of cultural impoverishment, as opposed to diversity.

Quite apart from linguistic questions, French representatives elsewhere in the EU system are deemed to punch beneath their weight in a way that invites unfavourable comparisons with other big member states, noteably the UK. French weaknesses in the circles of lobbying and, more generally, corporate PR in relation to the EU’s institutions are common knowledge – or common perceptions. Floch’s report pinpointed this area as one where ‘cultural blocks’ or blindspots were to blame, and where improvement could be detected. The French Permanent Representation in Brussels is also of the view that improvements in these informal policy-making networks are necessary, and forthcoming; the evidence, it has to be said, tends to relate mostly to facts about the formal structures of French representation in Brussels (such as the Cercle des délégués permanents, which represents business interests and fosters contacts with the Permanent representation; the permanent offices of some trade unions and nearly all French regions in Brussels; the 2004 initiative taken by the French permanent representation to ‘observe’ the think tanks of Brussels, to make an inventory of them, and to facilitate French participation in them; the information channelled to and from France’s seconded national experts (experts nationaux détachés); or to admissions of a belated awareness in the French political and administrative authorities of the multi-level, multi-faceted nature of EU politics. This leaves much still to be learned, and proven, about the success or otherwise of French performances in the processes of lobbying and interest group politics in Brussels, particularly given a national political culture in which such channels of influence are relatively alien and underdeveloped; whose national press corps which is seriously under-represented in Brussels (with 70 accredited journalists to Germany’s 147; see Baisnée, 2005); and with administrative traditions increasingly seen as defects in the context of European policy-making (the lack of authority of France’s European Minister; problematic information flows, still, between Paris and Brussels, particularly the MEPs (Lanxade, 2002; Floch, 2004b).

Intergovernmental Influence: The Convention and the Constitutional Treaty

Indeed, France’s relations with the EU in general are still relatively Paris and state-centric. Thus France (like Germany and the UK) sent its key government ministers to the 2002-03 Convention on the Future of Europe, where, overall, they obtained satisfactory results, particularly where cooperation with Germany on this intergovernmental level functioned smoothly. It is also the case, of course, that in Giscard d’Estaing’s strong, directive presidency of the Convention, France had already gained both recognition of its status as provider of ‘great Europeans’, as discussed above; and a potential relative advantage over its partner large states. It is no exaggeration to say that the Constitutional treaty is, at one level, Giscard’s treaty and will, in a historical sense, resonate positively as a reflection, if indirect, of France’s status as large and influential member state.



In what Magnette and Nicolaïdis refer to as the ‘hegemonic’ politics (2004: 81) of the ‘second phase of the Convention’, and on the occasion of the Franco-German celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Elysée Friendship Treaty, France and Germany proposed the ‘Franco-German compromise’ on the EU’s future leadership arrangements. This proposal: ‘advocated the controversial creation of what became referred to as a “dual EU Presidency” with a permanent European Council President and an elected Commission President’ (op. cit.). This development was a good illustration of the waning tolerance towards Franco-German exclusivity – since the proposal was divisive of large and small member states alike, and did not survive intact by any means. Nevertheless on this aspect of institutional reform, as in questions of justice and home affairs, and economic governance, Franco-German collaboration within the Convention exerted an agenda-setting influence. More influential was their impact – along with Britain – on developments in the field of ESDP, both in the Convention and the ensuing IGC, where some progress did flow on closer cooperation for example, in keeping with their joint objectives (Schild, 2004: 6). The importance of ‘big-ness’ in this specific respect, was thus restored. France and Germany also exerted pressure on the smaller states regarding the prospect of a small Commission in which there would be fewer seats than member states, and, most famously, obstructed progress for some time in their strong opposition to the Nice formula on Council voting rights, in direct conflict with Spain and Poland. Overall, in Schild’s view, the Franco-German relationship was most effective at the Convention (rather than the IGC) stage, through their championing of joint initiatives, their collaboration with the praesidium and their diplomatic bargaining with other member state governments (2004: 10). Thus President Chirac was able to declare, at the conclusion of the IGC, on 19 June 2004 that ‘This Constitution is good for Europe. It is good for France. (...) It will enable France to weigh more heavily in Europe, and so will allow the French people to make their voice heard. This is why the agreement is very important, and why I consider it to be of historic proportions.’ We can also add here that in agreement with Lequesne (2003: 2), the Convention experience did represent ‘an opportunity for France to give a new impulse and a new coherence to its policy on the EU’.

New Tactics for an Old Strategy?

Have France’s leaders learned how to make size count in an EU which they still claim as France’s destiny? Following his appointment as French Foreign Minister in the government reshuffle of April 2004, former EU Commissioner Michel Barnier declared in his ‘start of term’ address to France’s ambassadors (reported in le Monde 26/8/04) that he and his team recognised the need for a new style of French relations with the European Union, which made more room for the tactics of influence and, crucially, partnership.9 This seemed to be an appeal to temper France’s reputation for arrogance and, as we have seen above, there are signs of increased awareness in France that the rules of engagement in EU25 require France’s representatives in the EU institutions to work differently and better in order to ensure that France’s voice is heard; and the largely constructive French approach to the Convention on the Future of Europe was a sign that this awareness can be translated into concrete results.

At this level in particular, there is more generally evidence of the ability of French leaders to step aside from what Schild has called (2004) ‘le pressing diplomatique’, or Anderson ‘the mottled parody of Gaullism’ that he deems French foreign policy to be (2004a: 6); we have already noted that the particularly low point of the December 2000 Nice summit functioned to some extent as a trigger for change, after which the approach to regaining ground could be characterised as defiantly constructive, although perhaps not modest as such. This of course overlooks, for example, French opposition to the US-led war in Iraq in 2003, where Gaullist-style diplomacy appeared much in force, in the sense of voicing an alternative world view to that of the United States. Here we have to remind ourselves, however, that in many respects, French strategy towards the EU and the EU’s world role remains in many respects unchanged, even if the approach to securing its strategic objectives look more pragmatic.

Thus, during Chirac’s presidency to date, France has pursued a set of strategic goals regarding Europe that are largely unchanged since de Gaulle’s own time, namely, the exercise of influence within the EU, and the projection of external sovereignty, and thus national identity, as a global or ‘world’ power. In pursuit of these goals, Chirac’s vision of the EU has been notably consistent ever since he inherited the challenge of François Mitterrand’s Maastricht Treaty and its domestic aftermath. Thus, in 2004, President Chirac continued to argue for a ‘European Federation of Nation States’ driven if necessary by small ‘pioneer groups’ of willing EU member states, (such as in defence, or home affairs), not entirely dissimilar to Charles de Gaulle’s Fouchet Plans in 1961-2 for a European ‘Union of States’. While not discriminating between large and small states, the idea almost by definition suggests leadership by France and other large member states, preferably Germany. In relation to the Constitutional Treaty, President Chirac demanded the extension of qualified majority voting where there was functional French interest to do so (in relation to the EU’s social policy provisions for example), but insisted on unanimity elsewhere, such as in the global negotations covering trade in Europe’s ‘cultural products’, a good example of Chirac’s Gaullist habit in speaking out for Europe’s duty to withstand what is officially portrayed as the the onslaught of Americanisation.



IV. Conclusions

It would appear from the above that at the very least, France’s leaders are prepared to listen to those who argue that France has to work harder to make its size count in the post-2004 EU; certain concrete initiatives have been launched, meaning that inertia is no longer seriously considered as a modus operandi in Brussels; and other than the very staunch defence of Strasburg as the rightful other seat of the EP (which in any case is objectively safeguarded by the Amsterdam Treaty protocol), the need to find a balance between rearguard, symbolic battles for presence on the one hand, and genuine influence on the other, is unlikely to recede in significance.

Just as significant, if not more so, is the question of the size of the EU itself or, more specifically, the question of Turkey’s prospective EU membership. Whereas France’s more realistic appraisal of its relations with Germany, with the 10 new member states, with the EU’s institutions and so on, as depicted above, are by and large the product and reflection of domestic political consensus, the notion of an EU containing Turkey is in an altogether different class of affair, with great disruptive potential, not least because it is an issue on which staunch pro-Europeans in France, such as Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, have expressed firm opposition. In this respect, the Turkish ‘problem’ can be portrayed as a step too far, at present at least, for EU founder member France. Here too size alone – defined in terms of Turkey’s population – is not the issue as much as its implications for the identity of the EU defined in cultural, if not ethnic terms.

President Chirac, unsurprisingly, has attempted to reconcile his own acquiescence at EU level to the idea of negotiations on Turkish entry with the promise at domestic level of the possibility of rejection of any future application. Thus, in early 2005, he successfully engineered a constitutional amendment, in France, obliging a future government to hold a referendum on any EU enlargement that might arise post-Croatia. This, presumably, will be long after Chirac has left the presidency and in any case his main objective here, naturally, was to attempt to separate the Turkish question from the 2005 (binding) referendum in France on the draft Constitutional Treaty. At the time of writing, this referendum was due to be held in late May, 2005, and the constitutional ground had been cleared by French Parliament with virtually no opposition. Hostility to the EU Constitution was concentrated in those political forces in France with no or little representation in the French Parliament and, although French Euroscepticism was by 2005 of greater electoral significance than at the time of the 1992 Maastricht referendum, its showing in the 2004 EP elections nevertheless suggested an ebbing rather than rising tide and, in any case, was disjointed, and fractious.

At the time of writing, we can only speculate on the outcome of the referendum, but we can allow ourselves more confident remarks concerning its significance. Much would have been learned by French leaders from the Maastricht experience, in particular regarding the necessity of informing the French voter in good time of the stakes in question; although here, it has to be said that the government’s record had been consistently poor since 1992, up to and including the case of the 2004 European elections. Compared to the pre-electoral UK, however, the French government information machine was turning smoothly by early 2005. Similarly, the scope and the substance of the new Constitution were qualitatively different to that of Maastricht, in that did not extend the scope of integration in quite the dramatic way that the Treaty on European Union had. Nevertheless, the referendum would inevitably exacerbate divisions between and within parties, given the scope for the ‘pollution’ of the vote by domestic power games, in President Chirac’s terms; and all parties did indeed support the calling of a referendum.

The question of the French referendum raises a final dimension of the question of member state size. As in the UK, there is no ‘plan B’ in France, should the French electorate reject the Constitutional treaty by referendum in May 2005; indeed, it would be highly unadvisable for French politicians to entertain the very notion.10 Again, as in the UK, it would be suidical, politically-speaking, for France’s leaders to contemplate calling a second referendum on different terms, were the first to be lost (unlike the Danish and Irish precedents). Thus we can conclude for the present that France is still sufficiently big to hold the immediate future of the EU in its hands, and that its size in this respect, as founder EU member state, is of undisputed and considerable significance.




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1Endnotes

 I wish to thank the British Academy (Small Research Grant No. SG35607) for its financial assistance in the researching of this article.

2 But we should take note of the fact that Barrot’s portfolio – transport – is a sensitive policy area of considerable political and economic significance for the French government, in the context of deregulation vs. le service public.

3 A point raised by David Galloway, chef de cabinet to Pierre de Boissieu, Deputy Secretary-General of the Council, in a formal presentation on 3 February 2005 to Loughborough University graduate students; and by M. – O. Gendry, adviser in the French Permanent Representation to Brussels (see note 5 below).

4 Interview with senior figure in France’s UMP (Union pour une majorité populaire) party, with responsibility for European campaigns.

5 I thank Marc-Olivier Gendry, conseiller “présence française’, French Permanent Representation to the EU, for his comments on the role of the French language in maintaining and enhancing French ‘presence’ in Brussels (interview 4 February, 2005, Brussels).

6 This passage is taken from Drake (2004a).

7 ‘Until now, France has struggled to take the EP seriously or to pay it the attention, let alone respect, commensurate with its powers.’ (My translation)

8 My interview with M. Gendry from the French Permanent Representation (see Note 4 above) was instructive on these questions.

9 Je vous engage à faire que notre pays, et d’abord sa diplomatie, ajoute à sa culture traditionnelle de souveraineté une culture d’influence et de partenariat. La première réponse, je le dis sans détour, doit être européenne.’ I call on you to ensure that our country, in particular in its diplomatic relations, adds to its traditional culture of sovereignty the culture of influence and partnership. And the first step must be towards Europe.’ (My translation)

10 Although former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, a maverick in the French socialist party for his opposition to the Constitutional treaty, tried to encourage a ‘no’ vote as a means of delivering a salutary blow to the course of European integration, rather than halting the process itself.




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