Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Hollande-Miliband Axis

François Hollande must know the old American political adage, "Don't get mad, get even." In his own quiet way, he has paid back David Cameron for any number of snubs, both during the campaign and since Hollande's assumption of office (such as the invitation to French entrepreneurs to flee to Britain). Hollande invited Labour Party leader Ed Miliband to Paris and received him as though he were already Prime Minister. Meanwhile, Miliband may have borrowed a few ideas from Hollande about how to achieve that goal. There are similarities between the two, starting with the fact that both have been consistently underestimated. It's a bit premature to posit, as The Times does, that Hollande is already imagining himself as the leader of a reinvigorated trans-European left. But it's good to see him recognizing that cross-border alliances can take forms other than the notorious Merkozy duo.

1 comment:

bert said...

I agree, Art. There is something to the left-right analysis, but far less than meets the eye. Even the sharpest American observers are at a disadvantage here, I think. Political vocabulary is the same, but the meanings and value-associations are entirely different. Think of the words "liberal", "conservative", "socialist". If you were looking for a definition of "faux amis", you'd struggle to find better examples. And as a result, Hollande gets lumped in with Hugo Chavez by billionaire Jeff Greene. In France you have a Socialist president controlling a Socialist parliamentary majority. In the States you have Dennis Kucinich. That's quite a difference to get your head around, and it leads to errors of emphasis.

I'd suggest that a far more rewarding framework for what's happening is 19th century Great Power diplomacy. Until recently, we had a system with the Franco-German "motor" at its core. From a French point of view, it involved a pliable Germany that could be relied upon to agree a common line that reflected French interests. This line would then provide the basis around which wider agreement within the Council could be negotiated. You can trace this system back to the mid 1960s. It came close to breaking down at Nice in 2001; it was back in full force by 2002.

The euro crisis however has exposed the disparity in power between Germany and everyone else on economic and financial matters. Sarkozy attempted to preserve the form of the old system. To do so, he was forced to abandon its content: again and again, he emerged with a pre-summit Franco-German line that reflected German priorities. His political job was to pretend that he enjoyed the taste of that particular shit sandwich. (A good example would be the fiscal pact, which forces national governments at German insistence to write a retread of the stability pact into their domestic law.)

This background helps us understand what Hollande is currently attempting. It's not a rallying of the European left. Instead, French policy remains focused on Germany, just as it always was, but the support of others is seen as essential if Germany is not to impose itself.

Under its current government, Britain is utterly marginal to eurozone diplomacy. Partly that's institutional, of course, as a result of not being a member. But it's also, importantly, political. The Tory approach to Europe is dictated by its domestic struggle against UKIP and the discontents of its poujadiste backbenchers. That isolation could change with a change of government. And if France is looking to shore up its position vis a vis Germany by strengthening its position within the wider European Council, then it makes sense to invest in Miliband as a potential asset in the future.