france: an eu founder member cut down to size? helen drake, loughborough university, uk [email protected] paper to be delivered t

FRANCE: AN EU FOUNDER MEMBER CUT DOWN TO SIZE?
Helen Drake, Loughborough University, UK
[email protected]
Paper to be delivered to the EUSA Ninth Biennial International
Conference
Austin, Texas, USA
31 March-April 2, 2005
Panel 11E
NB. This is work in progress and should not be cited, please, without
my permission.
FRANCE: AN EU FOUNDER MEMBER CUT DOWN TO SIZE
Helen Drake, Loughborough University
I Introduction1
As EU founder member, France soon came to equate mere presence with
automatic influence over la construction européenne. This sense of
rightful inheritance, or ‘presence héritée’ (Floch, 2004a) meant that
for decades, size per se was not a conscious issue for French leaders,
other than as a convenient safeguard of its power. More broadly,
belief in French global prestige – a combination of le rang (rank) and
la grandeur (greatness) – ensured that successive French leaders took
for granted, and actively promoted, France’s leadership role in the
integration process. Measured by these criteria, France was simply the
best, and to this day, for some, still projects a superiority complex:
a stereotypical reputation for arrogance, if not ‘autism’ in its EU
routines, especially its Council presidencies (Costa and Dalloz, 2005;
Gubert and Saint-Martin, 2003). Indeed, Floch (op. cit. 117) refers to
this reputation for arrogance as a ‘subjective fact’ which has to be
taken into account by France’s policy-makers. This is a set of images
best embodied by Charles de Gaulle (President of France, 1958-1969),
for whom la grandeur was most definitely not a matter of vulgar size,
but was ‘a more archaic and abstract ideal’ (Anderson, 2004a: 5), and
on which hinged French national identity in the post-1958 Fifth French
Republic. But as Anderson also notes, this was a discourse ‘that
appeared even to many of his [de Gaulle’s] compatriots as out of
keeping with the age’ (ibid), and in the contemporary EU, French
presence and influence certainly no longer go unchallenged: the
inheritance has been rudely contested.
The challenge is primarily qualitative, since by 2005, France had
already agreed to cut back the numbers of its Council votes and MEPs
in comparison to Germany, and was thus henceforth faced with the
uphill task of making its diminished presence work harder. It is also
self-evidently a question of relative size, since France has compared
increasingly unfavourably to other ‘big’ member states in terms of
influencing debates and outcomes. A fundamental aspect of this subject
is the loss of formal parity between France and its most favoured EU
partner, Germany. As a result of Germany’s unification, changing
self-image, and increasingly successful demands for the numerical
recognition of its super-sized (relatively speaking) population,
France is now officially smaller than its neighbouring big state; this
has had some impact on the mechanics of the relationship, and on
broader French strategy in the EU, which we explore below.
Another crucial factor to consider when discussing size in the case of
France is the 2004 enlargement to EU25, which raised such acute
questions of power differentials between member states, and which
effectively challenged France to substantiate its historical claim to
grandeur by results, not just reputation. Indeed, in the ‘new’ Europe,
French influence is diluted not only by numbers, but by the force of
visible cultural, ideological and generational change. It is not that
other member states are not affected, but that the gap between past
and present is so sensitive in the French case. Thus Magnette and
Nicolaïdis write that France was the ‘main candidate’ for the
‘Lilliput syndrome’ brought on by the 2004 enlargement, whereby the
‘big countries’ picture themselves ‘as giants potentially held back by
a crowd of mini-countries’ (2004: 74). Yet another part of this
picture is precisely the decline in France’s reputation within the EU,
brought about by a number of developments which we explore below, but
which include a record of defensive diplomacy, and an insistence on
upholding the symbols and trappings of power.
In this context, where greatness is no longer a guarantee of French
power or thus influence, tactical and practical questions of
‘big-ness’ have increasingly come to preoccupy French politicians; put
in other, cruder terms, France has been cut down to size, which
matters like it never did before. In what follows, we first examine
the criteria by which France’s claims to EU influence have
traditionally been measured – the political, administrative and
linguistic advantages that accrued to France during the so-called
‘golden age’ of l’Europe à la française. We then, second, review the
developments that have challenged this perspective, including the
critiques that have emerged from within France itself, some of which
have been attached to a more generalised wave of criticism of France’s
perceived national decline. Third, we outline the ways in which an
increasing consciousness of size has shaped French behaviour in an
enlarged EU, beginning with the pivotal Nice summit of December 2000,
and culminating with the signature of the Rome Treaty in October 2004;
our analysis here includes an evaluation of the evidence of domestic
change and awareness, and also notes the battles for symbolic and
prestigious presence which are ongoing (such as over the use of the
French language in the EU’s institutions), and which to many seem
rearguard, and defensive. In our conclusions we raise the possibility
that what matters most for France, and for an understanding of its EU
policy into the near future, is not only the relative size of the
member states themselves, but the size – and specifically, the borders
– of the EU itself: can the French still identify with the EU of the
21st century?
II How Big is Great? The ‘Golden Age’
Jacques Floch, in his presentation of the French National Assembly’s
EU Delegation report on France’s ‘presence and influence’ in the
institutions of the EU (2000a), began by reminding the other deputies
of the ‘golden age’ (his inverted commas) when France could consider
its influence as a natural, self-evident right that flowed from its
status as the founding member of the EEC. Floch distinguished between
the political, administrative and linguistic sources of French
influence in Europe.
Political Leadership
According to this perspective, France’s political importance derived
primarily from the status and achievements of the two original French
proponents of the integration process, Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet.
Between them they effectively launched the ‘Monnet method’ – which was
in fact responsible for the ‘original bargain’ that sought to protect
small states in a framework governed by the principle of equality
(Magnette and Nicolaïdis, 2004: 69). The Schuman-Monnet pedigree has
indeed guaranteed France a leadership status in the EU, particularly
since it can also be argued that they were the most prominent examples
of a succession of French ‘statesmen of interdependence’ (Duchêne,
1994) in fact stretching from Aristide Briand in the early 20th
century, to former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing in his
role as President of the Convention on the Future of Europe, 2003-04.
These influential figures include, notably, two Commission Presidents
for a total of 14 years: François-Xavier Ortoli (1973-1977) and,
memorably, Jacques Delors (1985-1995); and numerous of the European
Parliament’s Presidents, including Robert Schuman (1958-1960), Georges
Spenale (1975-1977), Simone Weil (1979-1982), Pierre Pflimlin
(1984-1987), and Nicole Fontaine, 1999-2002.
Size as quantity has thus not been an issue in this respect,
particularly since to these examples we could add those of France’s
statesmen of independence, particularly its Presidents of the Fifth
Republic, from Charles de Gaulle to Jacques Chirac, all of whom
contributed to the advance of European integration by means of their
support for key initiatives (such as François Mitterrand’s backing of
the single European market in the mid-1980s); or their role in
generating ideas and pursuing them into practice (Mitterrand, again,
regarding Economic and Monetary Union in the early 1990s). This
historic record of influential French ideas and intellectual
leadership – contributions to the idea or finalité of Europe (see
Moreau-Defarges, 2003) – is rooted in reality, but was highly
dependent on German support, and appears to have inadequately prepared
French mentalities for the work of compromise and alliance politics
which increasingly characterise the EU25.
The Administrative ‘Architecture’
Floch underlines the resemblance between French administrative law and
the legal edifice of the EU, as well as the influence of the French
administrative state more generally on the ‘administrative
architecture’ of European life (the concours, the cabinets and so on).
Other perspectives on this situation exist; Mangenot (2005), for
example, demonstrates how difficult the French administrative legal
establishment has found it to accept the primacy of EU law, let alone
the existence of a separate, EU legal order with its own culture and
conventions. To this day, moreover, France still has one of the worst
records in the EU15 regarding the transposition of EU directives into
national law, transgressions of EU law, and challenges to the rules on
state aid.
Nevertheless, it is the also case that France has consistently
succeeded in placing its own people into many senior positions within
the EU’s administrative machinery; in quantitative terms, therefore,
French influence within the EU’s administrative corps is significant.
By Floch’s reckoning (2004b: 119) France in 2004 occupied around 12%
of the EU’s administrative posts, in contrast to 9.3% and 7.1% for
Germany and the UK respectively; with 45% of these French-filled posts
at the highest level, until recently known as category A. Amongst the
EU15, this gave France the highest number of senior posts in the
Commission, in contrast to the fourth highest in the Council where,
however, a significant proportion of these were at the highest levels
of all. It is not difficult to find a slightly different perspective
on these figures, quite apart from the arguments regarding quality (as
opposed to quantity), which we develop below. This is that senior
French presence in the Commission is seriously rivalled by that of
Germany; and that Britain has now for some time been well represented
in the highest echelons of the Commission and the Council (David
Williamson’s role as Commission Secretary-General in the 1980s being
an obvious example; Robert Cooper’s role as advisor to Javier Solana
another; and Pierre de Boissieu, Deputy Secretary-General of the
Council’s choice of a British chef de cabinet, David Galloway, yet
another). The Kinnock Commission reforms, moreover, sought to root out
precisely the sort of cultural norms in the Commission that made the
scandal of former Commissioner Edith Cresson’s nepotism rather less
likely. Finally, it must be noted here that Jacques Chirac’s
appointment of Jacques Barrot to the new Commission in 2004 (in which
France, of course, has only one Commissioner in contrast to its
previous right to two), attracted much negative commentary regarding
his age (at 68, one of the most elderly of the Barrosso Commission),
and linguistic limitations (non-English speaking), widely portrayed at
the time as evidence of France’s declining intellectual clout in the
EU.2
Language and identity
To the extent that French impact on the EU’s administrative and legal
edifice derives in part at least from the dominant use of the French
language, it would appear that while linguistically-speaking, French
‘was still the principal medium of the European bureaucracy of the
Community, down to the 1990s’ (Anderson, 2004a: 7), it has since come
under serious challenge from the rise of English. Floch’s report
(2004a) limits itself to the rather obvious statement that French
enjoyed a privileged position in the EU by virtue of the objective
fact of the EU’s institutions being implanted in French-speaking
locations: Brussels, Luxemburg and Strasburg. If this were the whole
story, then the precipitate decline of the use of French would not be
an issue of significance in France’s relations with the EU. However,
Anderson also tells us that the ‘rise of English as a universal
language’ (ibid) has not only ‘struck at the foundations of
traditional conceptions of France’ but, because of its identification
‘with the idea of French civilisation – somewhat more than just a
culture’ has removed ‘one of the most important props of national
identity’.
Ascertaining the extent to which this is the case is not entirely
straightforward, although it is no secret that the 2004 enlargement
has equated to a significant growth in the use of English – and a
parallel decline in French – in the EU25, both as official working
language, as ‘relay’ language for the largely non-existent
interpreters of, say, Maltese to Estonian; and as the unofficial
working language in those 40 or so Council working groups where
interpretation is no longer available on the house.3 Officially at
least, as we see below, the use of the French language still functions
as an important measure of relative French influence in the EU –
meaning that size, defined as quantity, does matter in this instance.
Yet this same battle is regarded by some within the French political
establishment as rearguard, and thus of limited importance4.
Nonetheless, one does not have to be a linguist to acknowledge that
language does convey concepts and ideas, and that the impact of le
tout anglais into policy frames is as much reality as paranoia, hence
the French dilemma.5
To Floch’s three-part analysis of the heyday of French influence in
the EU we must add the Franco-German relationship, which was as much
of a symbol of the peak of French influence as any other measure, and
which mattered greatly, size-wise, in both quantitative and
qualitative terms. The mechanical combination of the two biggest
member states’ votes and voices, and the coalition politics
surrounding this unique bilateral relationship over the years, brought
about a number of the EU’s most definitive changes, such as the
Maastricht Treaty, particularly its provisions for economic and
monetary union. Almost as tangible was the ‘deference’ accorded the
‘Franco-German engine’ (Magnette and Nicolaïdis, op. cit., 74) by
other member states. The currency of this relationship has without
doubt declined in value and, in particular, the notion of a directoire
is to date tolerated by the other member states only in matters of EU
defence or foreign policy, largely because of the presence of Britain;
and positively resented in most other policy domains. The shadow of
the 1960s Fouchet Plans, with their provisions for a Franco-German led
‘Union of States’ is still in living memory (Schild, 2004: 12), and
the relationship in the early 2000s did contribute to a ‘poisoning’ (op.
cit.) of the atmosphere in the EU, particularly with regard to their
direct challenge to the Eurozone’s Growth and Stability Pact in 2003;
for Schild, this was received by other partners as a classic case of
double standards, with different rules for different member states,
according to size. Thus, not only has France effectively shrunk within
its own special relationship, the unique bilateral friendship with
Germany; this has occurred at precisely the time when the relationship
itself has found its wings clipped.
III When Grandeur Is Not Enough: Making Size Matter
In France, the mid-2000s heard a rising number of concerned voices
about France’s ‘influence deficit’ (Bertoncini and Chopin, 2004: 45)
in the EU, of which Floch (2004a, 2004b), and others within the
political establishment. In contrast to the striking note of defeatism
which permeated media and political circles at the same time, by way
of a raft of literature proclaiming French national ’ (see Meunier,
2004; Anderson 2004a and 2004b; and Drake 2004b for discussions of the
‘declinist’ thesis in French political commentary), the principal
voices evaluating the flaws in France’s ‘presence’ in the EU (Betbèze,
2003; Bertoncini and Chopin, 2004; Floch, 2004a, 2004b; Lanxade, 2002)
aimed for a more objective assessment of the facts. Moreover, they
allowed themselves optimism based on the argument that a quantitative
dilution of French influence (through EU enlargement) does not
automatically spell decline, since the quality of French presence in
the EU is open to improvement. In this regard, the troubled French EU
Council presidency, which culminated at the Nice summit in December
2000, had already triggered a perceptible shift from defensive
diplomacy to more constructive Franco-EU relations, based on what we
might call lateral thinking, regarding the interpreation of questions
of size.
Size as Quantity: The Lessons of Nice, December 2000
The French EU Council presidency of July-December 2000 culminated in
the Nice Treaty, whose main purpose was to ready the EU’s institutions
for the 2004 enlargement, with particular reference to the relative
weight of the member states in terms of votes and seats. Taking more
sensitive account of population size was never going to be
straightforward or easy in EU25, given the interests involved in such
questions of relative national power (defined by size). Indeed, in
Magnette and Nicolaïdis’ terms, ‘(...) never before had the symbolic
character of voting weights been so apparent: France strongly refused
the claims [to extra Council votes], of a unified Germany now much
larger than the other states, and preserved a unique category for the
big ones, in the name of the solidarity between the Founding states.’
(2004: 76) But although the Franco-German ‘deal’ was maintained as
such, the mere fact of the challenge mounted to it by Germany amounted
to its demise. Henceforth, French relations with its most favoured
partner would become less predictable, and harder work.
The Franco-German relationship indeed remains key to any attempt to
interpret or unravel France’s thinking on Europe since the hollow
victory of the Nice summit, and can be taken as an indicator of change
in French attitudes.6 At institutional and symbolic levels, the
Franco-German friendship has undoubtedly been strengthened, via
excellent cooperation in the Convention, and the renewal in January
2003 of the friendship vows taken forty years earlier in the form of
the Elysée Treaty, points to which we return below. But Germany’s
leadership is neither as stable, pliant, or dependable as it used to
be in its relations with France, and it is intent on forging a full
and independent role for itself in the EU and beyond. Faced with this
reality, French perceptions of its priorities have altered: its
strategic objective remains the exercise of French influence, through
ideas as well as institutions, in the EU and beyond. But servicing
this objective has required tactical, even ideological shifts, and the
replacing of the ‘parity pact’ with Germany by a more pragmatic
nurturing of Germany’s emerging political power is one indicator of
ongoing intellectual change amongst France’s leaders.
At Nice, for example, the Franco-German Council deal had necessitated
the creation of ‘quasi-large’ states, noteably Spain and Poland who,
along with the small states, were effectively ‘bought off, one after
another, with a couple of extra votes’ (Gray and Stubb, 2001: 15).
Subsequently, in the Convention on the Future of Europe, Spain and
Poland fought hard to maintain their surprisingly advantageous Nice
deal. By then, however, the French President had turned a corner,
precisely within the context of France’s improving relationship with
Germany (following the 2002 elections in both countries): not only did
he no longer cling to notions of formal parity with Germany, but he
positively shunned the Nice deal in favour of a Council majority rule
more favourable to the truly ‘big’ member states. While the extent to
which the French Council presidency of 2000 was so troubled, moreover,
can to be laid at the door of the political cohabitation between
French President and Prime Minister in a pre-electoral period (Drake,
2001), it is also the case, however, that the most efficient
presidencies are increasingly associated with the smaller member
states; and France, in this respect, is a good example of the pitfalls
of ‘big’ when in the Council chair (Costa & Daloz, 2005).
A more obvious and immediate cost to France of maintaining symbolic
parity with Germany in the Council at Nice was a reduction in the
number of its seats in the European Parliament (alongside its
agreement to lose one of its two Commissioners in a deal ‘in which all
Member States could claim some success’ (Gray and Stubb, 2001: 15))
Under the terms of Nice, France (along with Britain and Italy) was to
lose 9 EP seats, while ‘Germany was given 12 more seats than the four
other big states under the [previous] system, thus breaking the taboo
of institutional equality with France.’ (Magnette and Nicolaïdis, op
cit., 91, my emphasis.) France thus saw its ‘size’ in the EP reduced
from 14% to 10% (of seats), while Germany’s relative reduction (after
enlargement) was from 15% to 13% only (Floch, 2004a: 117); the
differential was now 21 seats. It was in relation to this particular
development that a detectable shift subsequently occurred in the tone
of French political discourse regarding French influence in the EU;
namely, an insistence on quality as well as quantity as a source of
influence.
Size as Quality: Room for Improvement
Between the ‘strange affair’ (Cole, 2002) of France’s 2002
presidential elections (where Chirac’s victory came at the expense of
a damaging blow to France’s image amongst its EU partners, in the form
of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s presence in the second-round run-off) and the
June 2004 EP elections, a view emerged from within the French
political establishment that the impact of the French presence in the
European Parliament was cause for concern (see Floch, 2004b;
Bertoncini and Chopin, 2004; le Monde 2/3/04). Compared with
delegations from other large member states (including the UK), French
MEPs saw themselves admonished for absenteeism, underwhelming
performances in plenary and committee sessions, and unhealthily
attachments to notions of influence that were at odds with the
realities of power politics in the EP, and between the EP and its
partner EU institutions. There were obviously individual exceptions to
this rule; nevertheless, en bloc the facts were damning.
A key point concerned the dispersal of France’s (now) 87 MEPs between
a high number (currently, six) of the EP’s political groups. Thus
after the 2004 EP elections, France had 78 out of 732 MEPs (previously
87 out of 626), as before scattered between the highest number of
political groups of any other large national delegation. It has been
argued (le Monde 18/11/04) that since June 2004, these MEPs are in
fact slightly more concentrated in the EP’s three biggest groups (the
EPP, the PES and the DLA), which together account for 59 of the total
of 87, and that they thus have slighter greater visibility than
before. They also include a number of Committee presidencies, in
policy domains which from 2005 will be subject to QMV (such as the
Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs – Jean-Louis
Bourlanges), and Economic Affairs. Since the role of French MEPs in
the EP’s committee life in particular came under fire in, for example,
the Floch (2004b) and Bartoncini & Chopin (2004) reports – for their
tendency to favour participation in prestigious policy areas (such as
foreign policy and defence) rather than influential, legislative
fields – this can be seen as a sign of new, improved tactics. It is
also the case that the underlying reasons for the poor reputation of
French MEPs (on average) have been addressed at the highest level.
Thus, in President Chirac’s televised press conference on 29 April
2004 (le Monde, 29/4/04), at the beginning of the EP election campaign
in France, the President announced, effectively, that France would
henceforth be taking seriously the EP’s role in the EU policy process.
Chirac on this occasion portrayed the European elections as an
opportunity for France to secure its national interest in an
increasingly powerful European Parliament (EP). While this
intervention could be seen as constructive, as it forcefully endorsed
the significance of the European elections, it has to be taken in
context. Chirac’s support for the European Parliament’s institutional
status on the one hand, and his message of encouragement to French
MEPs on the other, represented something of a departure for Chirac. Up
until then, the French President had been willing to pursue the
traditional French line of talking down the European Parliament –
other than the symbolic and economic significance of its part-time
seat in Strasbourg – and virtually ignoring the potential role of
French MEPs in formulating or negotiating French policy towards
Brussels. As Bartoncini and Chopin forcefully declared in 2004 (p.6) ‘La
France a, jusqu’à présent, peiné à prendre le Parlement européen au
sérieux et à lui accorder une attention, voire une considération, à la
mesure des pouvoirs qu’il détient’.7 His change of heart is thus to be
seen as part of Chirac’s ongoing strategy to arrest the decline in
France’s influence in an enlarged EU, that we have already touched
upon here.
There are limitations to the extent to which this strategic swing can
achieve results. Contemporary French political culture, in which the
role of parliament is notoriously weak (op.cit, 13), is unlikely to
change overnight despite the President’s plea – although since the
Maastricht Treaty there has been a gradual drift in France towards
closer consultation of French Parliament by the French executive on
European affairs, a trend which will be strengthened if and when the
EU’s Constitutional Treaty comes into force. On the other hand,
France’s above- average multipartyism shows few signs of being tamed
into a neater Left-Right, bipolar opposition, which perhaps could flex
more muscle in the EP; in the wake of the shock of 21 April 2002, for
example, a government reform (in April 2003) of the mechanics of
proportional representation in regional and European elections was
pushed through Parliament. The reform was intended to reinforce the
bipolarity of France’s party system, by forcing mainstream and
marginal parties alike into tactical electoral alliances; In the
specific case of the EP elections, the reform was also unconvincingly
dressed up as bringing the voter closer to his/her elected
representative (la proximité) by regionalising the vote. Yet, as seen
above, the result was as great a dispersal of French MEPs between
parties and groups as before; and even in the case of the French
Socialists, whose victory ensured them the largest national delegation
within the PES, criticism regarding their collective influence has
continued, and is ongoing; moreover, even as the biggest delegation in
the PES, they still only represent 21% of the total number of French
MEPs, compared with the (smaller) German or British representation,
accounting for 35% and 33% respectively: the absence of critical mass
is striking (op. cit, 65).
It is also the case that for some, the French insistence on
maintaining – and sustaining – Strasburg as the second home of the EP
is of largely symbolic and limited significance. Whereas Floch (2004)
is insistent upon France’s right to uphold the Strasburg seat, and
portrays it in positive, not defensive terms, Bertoncini and Chopin
(2004: 46) are far less complimentary, noting that the Strasburg
battle – like the struggle for the French language in the EU’s
institutions – may well be justified, but has nevertheless not
translated into greater policy-making influence for the French, and is
unlikely to do so. For them – and as raised earlier, this is not a
lone viewpoint – both the Strasburg and language issues, by dint of
being made into great ‘national causes’ associated with the old
questions of le rang and la grandeur, have absorbed inordinate amounts
of French diplomatic energies for little profit since, however ‘noble’
the fight, it is no substitute for a rounded strategy of influence.
This did not prevent the French political authorities from launching
an action plan in 2002 to stem the decline in the number of existing
and new French-speakers in the enlarged EU. Floch (2004b), for
example, refers to the French National Assembly’s 2003 worrying
statistics on the use of French in the EU, expressing particular
concern for the sharp reduction in the use of French for initial
document drafts (Herbillon, 2003). The plan covers French language
tuition for member state nationals working for the EU, in Brussels;
software to facilitate drafting in French; intensive French immersion
courses for high-ranking Commission officials, including Commissioners
themselves, in the summer of 2004, in Provence; and an insistence that
the 2004 administrative statute stipulates knowledge of a third
working language as a requirement of service.8 This is a plan devised
under the auspices of France’s broader objectives for la francophonie
– the French-speaking world, a context in which the global dominance
of the English language is seen to run the risk of cultural
impoverishment, as opposed to diversity.
Quite apart from linguistic questions, French representatives
elsewhere in the EU system are deemed to punch beneath their weight in
a way that invites unfavourable comparisons with other big member
states, noteably the UK. French weaknesses in the circles of lobbying
and, more generally, corporate PR in relation to the EU’s institutions
are common knowledge – or common perceptions. Floch’s report
pinpointed this area as one where ‘cultural blocks’ or blindspots were
to blame, and where improvement could be detected. The French
Permanent Representation in Brussels is also of the view that
improvements in these informal policy-making networks are necessary,
and forthcoming; the evidence, it has to be said, tends to relate
mostly to facts about the formal structures of French representation
in Brussels (such as the Cercle des délégués permanents, which
represents business interests and fosters contacts with the Permanent
representation; the permanent offices of some trade unions and nearly
all French regions in Brussels; the 2004 initiative taken by the
French permanent representation to ‘observe’ the think tanks of
Brussels, to make an inventory of them, and to facilitate French
participation in them; the information channelled to and from France’s
seconded national experts (experts nationaux détachés); or to
admissions of a belated awareness in the French political and
administrative authorities of the multi-level, multi-faceted nature of
EU politics. This leaves much still to be learned, and proven, about
the success or otherwise of French performances in the processes of
lobbying and interest group politics in Brussels, particularly given a
national political culture in which such channels of influence are
relatively alien and underdeveloped; whose national press corps which
is seriously under-represented in Brussels (with 70 accredited
journalists to Germany’s 147; see Baisnée, 2005); and with
administrative traditions increasingly seen as defects in the context
of European policy-making (the lack of authority of France’s European
Minister; problematic information flows, still, between Paris and
Brussels, particularly the MEPs (Lanxade, 2002; Floch, 2004b).
Intergovernmental Influence: The Convention and the Constitutional
Treaty
Indeed, France’s relations with the EU in general are still relatively
Paris and state-centric. Thus France (like Germany and the UK) sent
its key government ministers to the 2002-03 Convention on the Future
of Europe, where, overall, they obtained satisfactory results,
particularly where cooperation with Germany on this intergovernmental
level functioned smoothly. It is also the case, of course, that in
Giscard d’Estaing’s strong, directive presidency of the Convention,
France had already gained both recognition of its status as provider
of ‘great Europeans’, as discussed above; and a potential relative
advantage over its partner large states. It is no exaggeration to say
that the Constitutional treaty is, at one level, Giscard’s treaty and
will, in a historical sense, resonate positively as a reflection, if
indirect, of France’s status as large and influential member state.
In what Magnette and Nicolaïdis refer to as the ‘hegemonic’ politics
(2004: 81) of the ‘second phase of the Convention’, and on the
occasion of the Franco-German celebration of the 40th anniversary of
the Elysée Friendship Treaty, France and Germany proposed the
‘Franco-German compromise’ on the EU’s future leadership arrangements.
This proposal: ‘advocated the controversial creation of what became
referred to as a “dual EU Presidency” with a permanent European
Council President and an elected Commission President’ (op. cit.).
This development was a good illustration of the waning tolerance
towards Franco-German exclusivity – since the proposal was divisive of
large and small member states alike, and did not survive intact by any
means. Nevertheless on this aspect of institutional reform, as in
questions of justice and home affairs, and economic governance,
Franco-German collaboration within the Convention exerted an
agenda-setting influence. More influential was their impact – along
with Britain – on developments in the field of ESDP, both in the
Convention and the ensuing IGC, where some progress did flow on closer
cooperation for example, in keeping with their joint objectives
(Schild, 2004: 6). The importance of ‘big-ness’ in this specific
respect, was thus restored. France and Germany also exerted pressure
on the smaller states regarding the prospect of a small Commission in
which there would be fewer seats than member states, and, most
famously, obstructed progress for some time in their strong opposition
to the Nice formula on Council voting rights, in direct conflict with
Spain and Poland. Overall, in Schild’s view, the Franco-German
relationship was most effective at the Convention (rather than the
IGC) stage, through their championing of joint initiatives, their
collaboration with the praesidium and their diplomatic bargaining with
other member state governments (2004: 10). Thus President Chirac was
able to declare, at the conclusion of the IGC, on 19 June 2004 that
‘This Constitution is good for Europe. It is good for France. (...) It
will enable France to weigh more heavily in Europe, and so will allow
the French people to make their voice heard. This is why the agreement
is very important, and why I consider it to be of historic
proportions.’ We can also add here that in agreement with Lequesne
(2003: 2), the Convention experience did represent ‘an opportunity for
France to give a new impulse and a new coherence to its policy on the
EU’.
New Tactics for an Old Strategy?
Have France’s leaders learned how to make size count in an EU which
they still claim as France’s destiny? Following his appointment as
French Foreign Minister in the government reshuffle of April 2004,
former EU Commissioner Michel Barnier declared in his ‘start of term’
address to France’s ambassadors (reported in le Monde 26/8/04) that he
and his team recognised the need for a new style of French relations
with the European Union, which made more room for the tactics of
influence and, crucially, partnership.9 This seemed to be an appeal to
temper France’s reputation for arrogance and, as we have seen above,
there are signs of increased awareness in France that the rules of
engagement in EU25 require France’s representatives in the EU
institutions to work differently and better in order to ensure that
France’s voice is heard; and the largely constructive French approach
to the Convention on the Future of Europe was a sign that this
awareness can be translated into concrete results.
At this level in particular, there is more generally evidence of the
ability of French leaders to step aside from what Schild has called
(2004) ‘le pressing diplomatique’, or Anderson ‘the mottled parody of
Gaullism’ that he deems French foreign policy to be (2004a: 6); we
have already noted that the particularly low point of the December
2000 Nice summit functioned to some extent as a trigger for change,
after which the approach to regaining ground could be characterised as
defiantly constructive, although perhaps not modest as such. This of
course overlooks, for example, French opposition to the US-led war in
Iraq in 2003, where Gaullist-style diplomacy appeared much in force,
in the sense of voicing an alternative world view to that of the
United States. Here we have to remind ourselves, however, that in many
respects, French strategy towards the EU and the EU’s world role
remains in many respects unchanged, even if the approach to securing
its strategic objectives look more pragmatic.
Thus, during Chirac’s presidency to date, France has pursued a set of
strategic goals regarding Europe that are largely unchanged since de
Gaulle’s own time, namely, the exercise of influence within the EU,
and the projection of external sovereignty, and thus national
identity, as a global or ‘world’ power. In pursuit of these goals,
Chirac’s vision of the EU has been notably consistent ever since he
inherited the challenge of François Mitterrand’s Maastricht Treaty and
its domestic aftermath. Thus, in 2004, President Chirac continued to
argue for a ‘European Federation of Nation States’ driven if necessary
by small ‘pioneer groups’ of willing EU member states, (such as in
defence, or home affairs), not entirely dissimilar to Charles de
Gaulle’s Fouchet Plans in 1961-2 for a European ‘Union of States’.
While not discriminating between large and small states, the idea
almost by definition suggests leadership by France and other large
member states, preferably Germany. In relation to the Constitutional
Treaty, President Chirac demanded the extension of qualified majority
voting where there was functional French interest to do so (in
relation to the EU’s social policy provisions for example), but
insisted on unanimity elsewhere, such as in the global negotations
covering trade in Europe’s ‘cultural products’, a good example of
Chirac’s Gaullist habit in speaking out for Europe’s duty to withstand
what is officially portrayed as the the onslaught of Americanisation.
IV. Conclusions
It would appear from the above that at the very least, France’s
leaders are prepared to listen to those who argue that France has to
work harder to make its size count in the post-2004 EU; certain
concrete initiatives have been launched, meaning that inertia is no
longer seriously considered as a modus operandi in Brussels; and other
than the very staunch defence of Strasburg as the rightful other seat
of the EP (which in any case is objectively safeguarded by the
Amsterdam Treaty protocol), the need to find a balance between
rearguard, symbolic battles for presence on the one hand, and genuine
influence on the other, is unlikely to recede in significance.
Just as significant, if not more so, is the question of the size of
the EU itself or, more specifically, the question of Turkey’s
prospective EU membership. Whereas France’s more realistic appraisal
of its relations with Germany, with the 10 new member states, with the
EU’s institutions and so on, as depicted above, are by and large the
product and reflection of domestic political consensus, the notion of
an EU containing Turkey is in an altogether different class of affair,
with great disruptive potential, not least because it is an issue on
which staunch pro-Europeans in France, such as Valéry Giscard
d’Estaing, have expressed firm opposition. In this respect, the
Turkish ‘problem’ can be portrayed as a step too far, at present at
least, for EU founder member France. Here too size alone – defined in
terms of Turkey’s population – is not the issue as much as its
implications for the identity of the EU defined in cultural, if not
ethnic terms.
President Chirac, unsurprisingly, has attempted to reconcile his own
acquiescence at EU level to the idea of negotiations on Turkish entry
with the promise at domestic level of the possibility of rejection of
any future application. Thus, in early 2005, he successfully
engineered a constitutional amendment, in France, obliging a future
government to hold a referendum on any EU enlargement that might arise
post-Croatia. This, presumably, will be long after Chirac has left the
presidency and in any case his main objective here, naturally, was to
attempt to separate the Turkish question from the 2005 (binding)
referendum in France on the draft Constitutional Treaty. At the time
of writing, this referendum was due to be held in late May, 2005, and
the constitutional ground had been cleared by French Parliament with
virtually no opposition. Hostility to the EU Constitution was
concentrated in those political forces in France with no or little
representation in the French Parliament and, although French
Euroscepticism was by 2005 of greater electoral significance than at
the time of the 1992 Maastricht referendum, its showing in the 2004 EP
elections nevertheless suggested an ebbing rather than rising tide
and, in any case, was disjointed, and fractious.
At the time of writing, we can only speculate on the outcome of the
referendum, but we can allow ourselves more confident remarks
concerning its significance. Much would have been learned by French
leaders from the Maastricht experience, in particular regarding the
necessity of informing the French voter in good time of the stakes in
question; although here, it has to be said that the government’s
record had been consistently poor since 1992, up to and including the
case of the 2004 European elections. Compared to the pre-electoral UK,
however, the French government information machine was turning
smoothly by early 2005. Similarly, the scope and the substance of the
new Constitution were qualitatively different to that of Maastricht,
in that did not extend the scope of integration in quite the dramatic
way that the Treaty on European Union had. Nevertheless, the
referendum would inevitably exacerbate divisions between and within
parties, given the scope for the ‘pollution’ of the vote by domestic
power games, in President Chirac’s terms; and all parties did indeed
support the calling of a referendum.
The question of the French referendum raises a final dimension of the
question of member state size. As in the UK, there is no ‘plan B’ in
France, should the French electorate reject the Constitutional treaty
by referendum in May 2005; indeed, it would be highly unadvisable for
French politicians to entertain the very notion.10 Again, as in the
UK, it would be suidical, politically-speaking, for France’s leaders
to contemplate calling a second referendum on different terms, were
the first to be lost (unlike the Danish and Irish precedents). Thus we
can conclude for the present that France is still sufficiently big to
hold the immediate future of the EU in its hands, and that its size in
this respect, as founder EU member state, is of undisputed and
considerable significance.
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1Endnotes
 I wish to thank the British Academy (Small Research Grant No.
SG35607) for its financial assistance in the researching of this
article.
2 But we should take note of the fact that Barrot’s portfolio –
transport – is a sensitive policy area of considerable political and
economic significance for the French government, in the context of
deregulation vs. le service public.
3 A point raised by David Galloway, chef de cabinet to Pierre de
Boissieu, Deputy Secretary-General of the Council, in a formal
presentation on 3 February 2005 to Loughborough University graduate
students; and by M. – O. Gendry, adviser in the French Permanent
Representation to Brussels (see note 5 below).
4 Interview with senior figure in France’s UMP (Union pour une
majorité populaire) party, with responsibility for European campaigns.
5 I thank Marc-Olivier Gendry, conseiller “présence française’, French
Permanent Representation to the EU, for his comments on the role of
the French language in maintaining and enhancing French ‘presence’ in
Brussels (interview 4 February, 2005, Brussels).
6 This passage is taken from Drake (2004a).
7 ‘Until now, France has struggled to take the EP seriously or to pay
it the attention, let alone respect, commensurate with its powers.’
(My translation)
8 My interview with M. Gendry from the French Permanent Representation
(see Note 4 above) was instructive on these questions.
9 ‘Je vous engage à faire que notre pays, et d’abord sa diplomatie,
ajoute à sa culture traditionnelle de souveraineté une culture
d’influence et de partenariat. La première réponse, je le dis sans
détour, doit être européenne.’ I call on you to ensure that our
country, in particular in its diplomatic relations, adds to its
traditional culture of sovereignty the culture of influence and
partnership. And the first step must be towards Europe.’ (My
translation)
10 Although former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, a maverick in the
French socialist party for his opposition to the Constitutional
treaty, tried to encourage a ‘no’ vote as a means of delivering a
salutary blow to the course of European integration, rather than
halting the process itself.
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