A Peace of the EU — then there’s France!
Apr 6, 2019Posted by on
This week on Facebook: Perfidious Albion¹ was a phrase much used by Napoléon Bonaparte, who would know the epithet as La Perfide Albion. There has been an enmity between Britain and France at least since the loss of the Angevin Empire by the English (or should that be the Norman invaders) and the 100 years war. It may even be the English insistence on calling themselves Anglo-Saxons, a term used by the French in a pejorative way.
I am sure that the French teach their history as proof of perfidious Albion, with the Fashoda Incident added for good measure. The Fashoda Incident was not taught when I was at school. If it was a mentioned at all would have been overshadowed by General Gordon and Churchill (that hero of the English right and enemy of the British left) participating in the last cavalry charge at the Battle of Omdurman.
The English view of the French is hardly helped by those other Anglo-Saxons during World War I saying, “Lafayette, nous voilà“. Those other Anglo-Saxons who consistently fail to acknowledge the French contribution to the American Revolution. Something the British (or should that be English) also choose to deliberately ignore, even when teaching Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown.
Perhaps, joyously received by the French and resentfully by the British (including the English), was General de Gaulle’s now famous “Non“ to the British application to join the EU. De Gaulle was probably right about one thing (see cartoon below) and that was the English thwarting of European dominance by France — except Charlemagne who may (contrary to popular belief) not have spoken french. The English at this time were real Anglo-Saxons and had their own problems which, had he chose to, Charlemagne could have probably resolved. There are many claims that de Gaulle was the prophet of Brexit ensuring the recognition of the Anglo-Saxon intentions to the EU and the perfidy of Albion was understood by all.
John Maynard Keynes wrote the following words in the introduction to his book ‘The Economic Consequences of the Peace’ following World War I, reflecting the indifference of the Anglo-Saxons and the ‘destructive significance’ of the French to the Treaty of Versailles.
But perhaps it is only in England (and America) that it is possible to be so unconscious. In continental Europe the earth heaves and no one but is aware of the rumblings. There it is not just a matter of extravagance or “labor troubles”; but of life and death, of starvation and existence, and of the fearful convulsions of a dying civilisation.
For one who spent in Paris the greater part of the six months which succeeded the Armistice an occasional visit to London was a strange experience. England still stands outside Europe. Europe’s voiceless tremors do not reach her. Europe is apart and England is not of her flesh and body. But Europe is solid with herself. France, Germany, Italy, Austria and Holland, Russia and Roumania and Poland, throb together, and their structure and civilization are essentially one. They flourished together, they have rocked together in a war, which we, in spite of our enormous contributions and sacrifices (like though in a less degree than America), economically stood outside, and they may fall together.
In this lies the destructive significance of the Peace of Paris. If the European Civil War is to end with France and Italy abusing their momentary victorious power to destroy Germany and Austria-Hungary now prostrate, they invite their own destruction also, being so deeply and inextricably intertwined with their victims by hidden psychic and economic bonds. The Economic Consequences of the Peace (p2)
I am unable to reference “C’est bien connu: La France, c’est l’Europe et l’Europe c’est La France” (below), which is taken from an article that I found some years age, and while it is written specifically in a NATO context it epitomises French thought on Europe.
‘From a French point of view, this is not simply a question of maximising the French influence and to protect French security interests. The French self-image does not allow for a separation between French and European interests. France natural role as a great power is not simply founded on its past as distinguished colonial power, its status as one of the four victors of the Second World War or its permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council. These are just externals.
The French revolution is the most important event that formed the national self-image. It did not only cause great changes in France, but in all of Europe and throughout the world. The French see the revolution as the birthplace of modern European thinking. From a French perspective, France stands for that which is genuine European (often seen in contrast to what is American). In this sense, France is Europe and Europe is France.
The French discourse is therefore characterised by a synonymous notion of France and Europe. Like no other country the French project the image of the own nation on Europe, ascribe the role of a trailblazer to France and tend to blend French and European interests. It can therefore be difficult to distinguish French from European referent objects.
Although Paris seems to picture a European security process as an extended French security process, it does not simply confuse national and European positions. France sees its own role in a European context and argues in European terms. The French policy is often seen and presented as a European policy. In other words, France can only realise its proper national security and defence initiative in a European context.
The French are of course by no means naive. They are well aware of that other EU countries do not necessarily share the French view. The fears of a strong Germany display the realisation of differences among European ideas. This is one explanation for why France has never been keen on renouncing sovereignty and/or its own autonomy in the European integration process. (sic)
It isn’t possible to mention France or the EU without mentioning Charles de Gaulle as the president of France’s Fifth Republic, the above cartoon by Fritz Behrendt not only represents de Gaulle’s view of his place and that of France in the world but (perhaps) how the French view Europe in a Louis XIV, Napoléonic and Charlemagne like manner. “C’est bien connu: la France, c’est l’Europe et l’Europe c’est la France”, and while de Gaulle may not have used those actual words, with an unwavering gallic aplomb he did say, “When I want to know what France thinks, I ask myself“. To the French this may be read as, “If you want to know what Europe should think, ask the French“.
General de Gaulle, who had returned to French politics in 1958, set out to restore France’s place in the world by pursuing a policy of independence and grandeur. He was in favour of a European Union (EU) with France and Germany as its pillars, but he refused to relinquish any significant degree of sovereignty to a supranational authority like The ‘Franco-German duo’. To my mind it is impossible to think that France would integrate its nuclear arsenal into a European military force² that was not controlled by France — much as NATO is controlled by the USA. Even if Paris could see a possibility of establishing its own notion of a European Union military force outside of NATO³, there are many reasons that France would not renounce the sovereignty of its State.
However, for the last sixty years of peace in Western Europe has been maintained by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), a peace that enabled de Gaulle to develop France’s own Force de Frappe (nuclear deterrent). If the European Union is to maintain that peace without NATO then it must hand control of a nuclear defence to a French directoire (executive), despite the integration of the French ‘Force de Frappe’ into a European Franco/German led defence force that creates problems. Nevertheless, there is an American view that NATO has outlived its usefulness and risks dragging America into an unnecessary war in which most European allies would do little more than watch.
The French ‘Force de Frappe’ firmly established France as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). France may well become the only leader of the European Union holding a permanent seat on the UNSC in 2019. There are indications that France is unwilling to give over this permanent seat to an elected representative of the EU, particularly where the French view does not take precedence. A guarantor of peace between member States of the European Union may well be the objective of a Franco/German led defence force, but it is difficult to see how it can prevent unilateral action by any EU State that takes place beyond the EU’s borders. Particularly France which, despite its return to NATO’s military command, is the only ally out of 28 EU member States who is not a member of the Nuclear Planning Group. A context that (from a French perspective) excludes all other Anglo-Saxons and especially perfidious Albion.
1. The myth of the European peace project: It has bred in the European political elite a habit of profound disrespect for public opinion and democratic process, not least in relation to referendums that yield the “wrong” result. That is an important component of the resentment behind the rise of rightwing populist parties in the EU. And the underlying claim that economic interdependence within, first, the Schuman-inspired Franco-German coal and steel community in the 1950s, and then the wider EU, has purged Europe of its ancient enmities is not only fanciful but based on a misunderstanding of the relationship between economics and national security.
2. Can the EU keep the peace in Europe? Not a chance: There are three reasons why this is wrong. The first is that European integration contributed very little to the building of peace in post-war Europe. The second is that the EU’s record in keeping the peace on its external borders is poor. The third is that the Euro has aggravated conflicts between the members of the Eurozone: between north and south, creditor and debtor, exporter and importer.
3. How valid is the claim that the EU has delivered peace in Europe? A few years ago, the EU was awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize. The Scottish Herald described the award as ‘crass’, one which would inflame ‘tensions when many of the EU’s 500 million citizens have been thrown into penury by the worst recession since the 1930s.’ I remember some thought it was a joke. Lord Lamont was quoted saying the decision was ‘preposterous and absurd.’
4. Has the European Union Maintained Peace in Europe? In the desperate-looking effort to make the European Union look appealing following the United Kingdom triggering Article 50 (which starts the process of the UK leaving the Union), many different statements about the EU are re-surfacing. A prominent one is that of Brussels’ avoiding armed conflicts on the European continent.
5. EU at 60 – the longest period of peace in Europe in over 2,000 years: The Schuman Declaration said that the proposed ECSC would make war between historical rivals France and Germany “not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible” and the founding members: France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, can be proud that not only has there been the longest period of peace between major powers in Europe in over 2,000 years of written history, but it has coincided with an unprecedented prosperity that in 1950 most experts thought inconceivable — after all, most of the leading industrial nations of the world by 1945 had left Europe a wasteland, following three decades of war and economic misery.
Referenced Articles & Books:
- A bold text subscript above and preceding a title below (¹·²·³), refers to a book, pdf, podcast, video, slide show and a download that is usually free.
- Brackets containing a number e.g. (1) reference a particular article (1-5).
- A superscript in bold¹ is used for a reference included below.
- Links (without superscript) reference a source.
- Links may include a superscript to indicate the word used’s (context¹).
- A long read url* is followed by a superscript asterisk.
- Occasionally Open University (OU) free courses are cited.
- JSTOR lets you set up a free account allowing you to have 6 (interchangeable) books stored that you can read online.
¹Perfidious Albion again (url): After a good dinner, a surprising number of European Union officials and politicians will murmur that de Gaulle was right: Britain should never have joined. Many British Eurosceptics would endorse his description of their country. They have a point: Britain is different. As the new prime minister, David Cameron, holds his first meetings with France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and Germany’s Angela Merkel, it is worth pondering why.
²Peace and Security in 2018 (pdf): The world has become more peaceful in recent centuries. Europe in particular has experienced the longest period of peace in its history, not least thanks to a regional network of international organisations, of which the EU is a major example.
³France in NATO The purpose of this return to the Alliance – after the withdrawal made in 1966 by General De Gaulle – is much more political than military. Hubert Védrine’s famous phrase: “friends, allies, not aligned”, still defines the relationship between France and NATO.