It may be a difficult marriage, born of proximity and convenience rather than passion, but today German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande put a good face on the 50 years since France and Germany signed the Elysée Accords. Americans, left and right, could learn a thing or two from this relationship.
The raised glasses of fine champagne and plates full of steaming sauerkraut (the former enjoyed more than the latter, I presume) hide a policy divide similar to that seen between Democrats and Republicans. That is, whether Europe’s grievous financial structural issues can be better handled through “stimulus” or “austerity” models. It goes without saying that Germans favor budget cuts and austerity, while the French favor tax hikes and stimulus.
With Europe’s economic future on the line, the question of who is right, and at whose expense, may seem to trump any show of humility. But this is not Merkel’s approach, even though the German economy is providing a 20-year low in unemployment compared with France’s Euro-era high.
"We are aware of our great responsibility to improve the situation in the European Union, overcome the euro crisis and make possible economic growth — and so make workable for the future the tried and tested model of European life, linking competitiveness and economic strength with social cohesion," Merkel said, emphasizing the need to act concretely and in conjunction with France.
President Hollande struck a similar tone: "We have to give Europe confidence in its future … (and) be as concrete as possible ... so that growth can be reinforced and stability guaranteed … We are ready to talk to anyone, to hear any ideas, from those who want to go further in European construction.”
Is such a tête–à–tête imaginable in these United States? Could we have such profound mildness from our politicians? Granted, France and Germany have a rivalry that's caused three wars in 70 years to counterbalance, and a political union that seems to be made up as it goes along, compared with our Constitution and its “winner-take-all” presidential contest. Still and all, the Franco-Allemande approach seems to be the one that will work better in the end. If it does, it will have its shrewdly mild leaders to thank.
Luckily we will not have long to wait. France and Germany face a timeline by which to agree: The June European Summit.