Thursday, April 5, 2012

A New Europe

How it must rankle the Élysée to hear Czar Nicolas derided as "Angela's poodle." Alain Juppé has been dispatched to set things right. If Nicolas is re-elected, he says, there will be a new Europe, with France back in the driver's seat. "It's not a bad method from time to time to bang the table," he adds, to reinforce the image of his boss taking an active role in remaking things. And what will this new Europe look like? It will be a "Europe of borders," a "Europe that protects."

And it's not just the Schengen borders that Sarkozy proposes to restore. The new idea is far more ambitious, namely, to shield Europe from "the profoundly new world in which we live." This certainly sounds like a vague promise (threat?) of some unspecified form of protectionism, which might not sit at all well with a country such as Germany, which exports as much to China as it imports. Indeed, since the EU as a whole is in trade balance with the rest of the world, it's not at all clear whose ox Sarkozy wants to gore, although it is clear whose voters he wants to woo: the 40+% of the electorate who have been seduced by the protectionist sentiments voiced by the likes of Le Pen, Mélenchon, and even Montebourg.

France, of course, has a trade balance problem of its own, but it's a problem within the EU as well as without, and erecting a barrier, or more precisely a low sand dune, along Europe's coastline won't help, for example, to alleviate the decline of France's auto industry. And what is the source of the threat to France's auto makers? Is it Japan? China? Eastern Europe? Not really. It's Spain, believe it or not. Over just the past few years, France has become a net importer of automobiles from Spain. This is certainly good news for Spain, and to some extent belies the contention that Spain put all of its marbles into an unsustainable construction boom in the 2000s. Apparently some of those marbles went into auto plants belonging to SEAT, a Volkswagen subsidiary. Sarkozy and Juppé might want to consider this as they try to persuade Frau Merkel to restrain her fury against all this talk of a "protective Europe." Because as far as Germany is concerned, it played by the rules of the single market and won. Now Sarkozy is proposing to change the rules while accusing his opponent of besmirching France's honor by reneging on a solemn agreement.

Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue.

1 comment:

FrédéricLN said...

"France, of course, has a trade balance problem of its own, but it's a problem within the EU as well as without"

Actually, if our within-the-EU competitivity problem was solved, even us Bayrou supporters would support the governement (whatever its colour). Meaning competitivity at large (= ability to sold valuable goods and services), not "price cuts", of course.