Gideon Rachman had a good column yesterday pointing out that the French have been notably absent as any kind of force in Europe ever since Francois Hollande took up the reins of power in Paris:
From Jean Monnet to Jacques Delors, the French have always prided themselves on providing the intellectual leadership for the European project.France has failed to articulate a policy or build a coalition. The result is that within the EU there is no alternative to German agenda-setting. This is paralleled by growing Russian weakness, especially as evidenced by the latest events in Cyprus. The two powers who since late 19th century have served to balance Germany in Europe are both in eclipse.
The notion that Europe should be driven forward by a Franco-German partnership was crucial to French thinking—and was reflected in former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s determination to form a close partnership with Ms Merkel. The idea that Europe was being run by “Merkozy” was always a bit of an illusion—but at least it signalled a French determination to be at the centre of the action.
Under President François Hollande, however, any notion that France is playing an equal role to Germany has disappeared. Over Cyprus, even the Finns seemed to weigh more heavily in the debate than the French. Part of the problem is that Mr Hollande has let it be known that he disapproves of Germany’s insistence of austerity but he has not proposed a coherent alternative. He has not placed himself at the head of an alliance of southern nations that could push back the Germans. But nor has he established a good working relationship with Ms Merkel. French officials also no longer play the crucial role they once did at the heart of Europe. Following the retirement of Jean-Claude Trichet, a Frenchman no longer heads the ECB. Michel Barnier, the French EU internal market commissioner, is a bit of a lightweight.
Other than Germany, Turkey is only power on mainland Europe that is gaining clout. These are interesting times.