Pact of mutual convenience

ALMOST by the week, new props are added to a revitalised Franco-German axis. Yesterday, the two countries blocked a decision in NATO on preparations for supporting measures in any US-led war in Iraq. Further, Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder made a joint declaration for a peaceful solution to the crisis.

This new-found chumminess is far from confined to the matter of Iraq. Yesterday brought a flurry of new agreements after the celebrations at Versailles to mark the 40th anniversary of the Elyse Treaty. These included new proposals to promote a common European defence policy, plans to set up a European public prosecutor’s office, a continent-wide criminal records system and a common European border police. Other members of the EU came to hear of these because some of the agreements were leaked to the press. With such insouciance does the Franco-German axis proceed.

All this must be galling for Tony Blair on several counts. First, the Franco-German opposition to US policy on Iraq plays strongly to a growing anti Americanism on the continent. And it cannot but be seen as a direct snub to the British Prime Minister, who has sought to build influence through a direct relationship with the US president. It makes it all the more difficult for Mr Blair to sell his pro-US stance to sceptical British voters. And it confirms a widespread public impression that, despite Mr Blair’s assertions to the contrary, Britain is not, as he would seek to portray, enjoying influence at the heart of Europe.

France and Germany have found common cause on other issues. Again, to the chagrin of Mr Blair, it was Mr Chirac who persuaded his German counterpart to agree a delay of reform of the Common Agricultural Policy beyond 2007. And both countries, which have run into trouble on their budget deficits, are resistant to Anglo-Saxon-style reforms of their troubled economies. This is no axis of idealism but a pact of mutual convenience, as much to protect each other’s interests as to advance their own particular view on the future of Europe. Mr Blair, in their view, cannot face both ways at once.

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