Appearances can often be deceptive. This observation will dominate analyses of the Evian G8 Summit when it closes on June 3rd. After many months of stormy diplomatic quarrels, the French and American leaders will finally be forced to lower their masks and to recognise, surreptitiously, that they have everything to gain from the Paris-Washington axis. The warning signs are there. It was on the occasion of a preparatory summit meeting in Paris at the start of May that the American Attorney General, John Ashcroft, landed in France for what was the first official visit by a high ranking American in France since the Iraqi crisis exploded. In reality, France and America need to co-operate today more than ever if they are to face up to the global trend of an economy in arrears and to drive out the spectre of global deflation. This is the main basis on which the two countries should collaborate.
September 11th and April 21st: the abolition of disagreement
On a political level, the difficult compromise at the UN for a 'suspension' of sanctions in Iraq followed after Washington had declared its desire for the pure and simple abolition of out of date retaliation measures against Saddam's regime, and Paris, in opposition, called for the necessity of finding the previously longed for weapons of mass destruction.
But it is on the 'European question' that George W Bush and Jacques Chirac have found for some time, and far from the reach of the media spotlight, full understanding. First of all, they are two leaders who are strongly backed by their respective public opinions: one thanks to the effects of September 11th and the other thanks to the 'spirit' of April 21st, the day of the second round of Presidential elections involving the leader of the extreme right, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in which almost all of 'Republican' France held tight to its old President. It is on the basis of these perverse internal mechanisms causing the abolition of the opposition (Democratic or Socialist) that Bush and Chirac, supported by able advisors, have been able to repeat on the international scene their internal position of advantage with each one imposing his own version of unilateralism.
A divided EU? Paris is delighted
The first to pay has been Europe. Already fragile thanks to the impending institutional 'big bang' provoked by enlargement on an enormous scale with the arrival of 10 new countries next year, and incapable of reforming itself, the EU definitely did not need the recent artificial split caused by Paris and Washington's team effort.
Let's look at the facts. On January 22nd in Versailles Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder said 'no' on behalf of the EU to the proposal of a preventive attack on Iraq after barely consulting their European partners. On January 24th these partners' reaction, feverishly orchestrated by the Pentagon, was not slow in coming and 'new Europe', vexed, declared its own willingness to negotiate with the US. This is what Chirac wanted. In an extremely tense climate the President's comment on the diplomatic gestures taken by the candidate countries from the East was red hot: "They missed a good opportunity to remain silent". It was a phrase that, in diplomacy, was closer to congratulation than worry over the division that he was going to map out. But why play at dividing Europe? The response, as often happens, concerns the vague and often unclear world of ideas.
In Washington, the American administration is dominated by a vanguard of neoconservatives, members of a mixed and vibrant intellectual movement that preaches, among other things, the uncontested continuation of American power. For John C Hulsman, from the Heritage Foundation, for example, the US must do everything possible to prevent the EU from vying for domination of the 21st century that, as Robert Kagan says, must be a 'new American century'. To achieve this the old practice of 'divide and rule' is still in fashion.
Battle of the rearguard
The outlook in Paris changes but the diagnosis stays the same. Here you find the 'neo-Gaullists' that, with Chirac, dominate. As far as this decrepit and anachronistic - so different from the fashionable neoconservatives - movement is concerned, Europe is slowly eroding France's margin for manoeuvre: from the cuts to the tax burden that Chirac had promised during his electoral campaign and that Brussels judges inopportune; this is why he needs to profit from the transition phases that currently are weakening the European project in order to impose French interests; From a new defining of relations with Brussels by force, by winning, for example, with its last suggestion the Presidency of the Convention with the former French President Giscard D'Estaing. It was really through this suggestion, catastrophically intergovernmental, that Paris' true plan was revealed. And the promising French-German compromise announced on January 16th of a 'double-headed' Presidency is nowhere to be seen. The Quai d'Orsay had only supported this in order to attract the tactical support of Berlin on the Iraq issue.
Neo-Gaullists and neoconservatives united against Europe? People will soon be tempted to admit it. The problem is that this convergence often takes different forms to the detriment of the public perception. If Washington is not scorning unilateralism in order to impose its will, Paris is not hesitating to turn itself into the champion of 'peace', 'rights', and international community 'values'. These are the same values that Paris easily turned its back on during the illegal attack on Milosovic's Serbia.
But beyond etiquette, what remains is the common desire of France and the US to slow down the rise of the EU as the new power of the future, in the name of an anachronistic return to realpolitik. But if this strategy is transparent and, admittedly, more than understandable in American behaviour, it remains scandalously reprehensible and concealed in France's case. Paris' behaviour is just the battle of the rearguard to save its sovereignty.