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What a Difference 10 Years Can Make

French foreign policy has not changed that much in the last decade, but some prominent US opinions about Paris have.

I am surprised to read the headline "Can the E.U. become the world's policeman?" in the Washington Post. Anne Applebaum's latest op-ed about French policy in Mali concludes that Americans should "stop giggling about cheese-eating surrender monkeys and start offering logistical and moral support. Europe may not be the best superpower. But it's the only one we've got."

Wow. Thanks. But that's too much praise. Of course, the EU will not, cannot and does not even want to become the world's policeman or a superpower in the foreseeble future.

Still it's nice to read this as we approach the 10th anniversary of the transatlantic quarrels over the Iraq war. On January 24, 2003 the NY Post published the “Axis of Weasel” cover story about France and Germany and a play on George W. Bush’s denunciation of the “axis of evil”. And then there were the Subway ads, which SuperFrenchie campaigned against.

Anne Applebaum assumes that Europe has changed so much since the Libya operation and makes a big deal out of the French intervention in Mali and its context. I think she exaggerates, but she also makes important observations, which will change American perceptions of France:

In other words, the French are in Mali fighting an international terrorist organization with the potential to inflict damage across North Africa and perhaps beyond. Not long ago, this sort of international terrorist organization used to inspire emergency planning sessions at the Pentagon. Now the French have had trouble getting Washington to pay attention at all. Some U.S. transport planes recently helped ferry French soldiers to the region but, according to Le Figaro, the Americans at first asked the French to pay for the service - "a demand without precedent" - before wearily agreeing to help.

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A Tale of Two Cities

I was not that impressed by Obama's speech yesterday, but I strongly believe that Europe can learn a lot from the inauguration. Take for instance today's German/French celebrations of the Elysée Treaty.

The French parliamentarians and many ministers commemorated the 50th anniversary with their German counterparts in the Bundestag. That's a great gesture. I listened to Lammert and Hollande during my lunch break. It was okay, but rhetorically far from the level of Obama. And I missed the hope and vision thing. My main criticism, however, is the lack of big public celebrations.

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Five Theses on the State of EU Politics

The EU not only finds itself in a fiscal crisis, it is also faced with a crisis of confidence. We need a broadly based public debate on alternative proposals for the future of Europe. With this in mind, the Heinrich Böll Foundation's international conference "Europe's Common Future" explored different perspectives and policy proposals.

The Greek, French, Polish and German speakers on the panel "Germany's role in the crisis" strongly reinforced five opinions of mine:

1. Poland likes Germany much more than ever before. They count on us.

2. The French inferiority complex in EU matters is getting worse.

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"Europe" is a Dirty Word in the United States

Mitt Romney's Anti-European rhetoric is stronger than the Anti-American statements by leading German politicians in the last few election campaigns. Romney seems to assume that Republican voters are so stupid, uninformed and Anti-European that he can get their votes with scaremongering.

His Europe bashing seems to be his response to the criticism of his "socialist" health care policy in Massachusetts and his French language skills. (Newt Gingrich released the attack ad "The French Connection".)

In Iowa Mitt Romney accused Obama of turning the United States into "a European-style welfare state," saying Obama's policies would "poison the very spirit of America and keep us from being one nation under God," according to the Washington Post.

In his New Hampshire Primary Victory Speech he said Obama "wants to turn America into a European-style social welfare state society. We want to ensure that we remain a free and prosperous land of opportunity. This President takes his inspiration from the capitals of Europe; we look to the cities and small towns of America." (See video at 6:30 minutes.)

Well, Norway, Finland, Denmark and even Germany and France deserve the title "land of opportunity" more than the US does because social mobility is higher. The NYT writes about five such studies.

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Why NATO Members Disagree on Libya

The 28 NATO members gave the Alliance a new Strategic Concept with three core tasks: collective defense, crisis management and cooperative security. Yet, just four months after the historic Lisbon summit, the members disagree considerably on NATO's role in the crisis management concerning Libya.

After many long deliberations NATO is currently only responsible for enforcing an arms embargo against Libya, although NATO has completed plans to "help enforce the no-fly zone," as Secretary General Rasmussen explains in a very long and diplomatic sentence in this video:

James Joyner of the Atlantic Council posts a "slightly tongue-in-cheek, guide to the intra-alliance debate over NATO's role in Libya":

The Italians want NATO to take over so they can avoid national responsibility  (i.e., tell their Arab friends "it's not us, it's NATO, so we don't have a choice").

The French want to keep NATO out because they want to prove that THEY are the true friends of the Arabs, and they'll keep that bad NATO away.

The Germans want to keep NATO out because they don't believe in military action, and NATO having responsibility means Germany would be held to be responsible.  (...)

The US wants NATO to take over as a "handoff" -- even though it means a handoff to ourselves.   In the American political lexicon, NATO has come to mean "Europe" -- and the Obama team just wants to hand off so it's not an "Obama war." (...)

Apart from that, we've got a consensus!

Oh, boy.

France and US: Bad Judgment on North Africa

French Foreign Minister Alliot-Marie, who has served under several prime ministers and has held almost all of the big ministries, should resign immediately!

Moreover, I wish that the entire French government is so ashamed of itself that they cease to give grand speeches about human rights, democracy and values for the rest of the year.

Los Angeles Times

France trained Egyptian police officers in crowd control and sent tear gas to Tunis. And its foreign minister vacationed in Tunisia after the uprising, using the jet of a man linked to the ousted president. (...) French Prime Minister Francois Fillon confirmed this week that the government had authorized a shipment of tear gas grenades to Tunis on Jan. 12, two days before Tunisian President Zine el Abidine ben Ali was toppled from power. (...) Weeks ago, Alliot-Marie was criticized for offering to prop up Ben Ali's unpopular administration just days before he fled the country. She suggested sending France's "world renowned" security forces to help quell the uprising.

Compared to what France has done, the Obama administration's lapse of moral judgment is peanuts. Telegraph Independent:

Frank Wisner, President Barack Obama's envoy to Cairo who infuriated the White House this weekend by urging Hosni Mubarak to remain President of Egypt, works for a New York and Washington law firm which works for the dictator's own Egyptian government.

Meanwhile, Germany might facilitate a quick de facto resignation of Mubarak. Jerusalem Post:

The United States government's plan to end to the political chaos in Egypt appeared to be a scenario wherein Mubarak travels to Germany for a "prolonged health check," the report suggested.

Photo: © Rémi Jouan, CC-BY-SA, GNU Free Documentation License, Wikimedia Commons

US, France and Germany: Divisions and Lack of Professionalism Everywhere

We all need more team spirit. Obama's Afghanistan team is in disarray. Their egos seem to be as bloated as the ego's in the French soccer team.

While President Obama is angry with McChrystal's frank comments and perhaps insubordination, President Sarkozy is reportedly furious over the national team's behaviour inside and outside the soccer stadiums. It was not really a "team." He even cleared his schedule for a one hour meeting with the captain on the day of a general labor strike. That shows how important the soccer team is for France as a symbol of national integration and unity.

Germany's coalition government has been in disarray for months as well with some calling each other "wild pigs" and "gherkin troops" (rank amateurs). (There are also rumors that one cabinet member called the defense minister "rumpelstiltskin.") Though, thanks to the national soccer team's victory over Ghana today, Merkel's government won't collapse yet. ;-)

If Germany had failed to make it into the round of sixteen for the first time in history, it would have been a national fiasco. Let's do not forget that the German coach is not called "Trainer der Nationalmannschaft," but goes by the official sounding name "Bundestrainer," just like the top government titles "Bundeskanzler," "Bundespräsident" etc.

On Sunday, we will play against England. One British fan said on TV that the world cup was invented for England and Germany to play against each other. Good point. Still, it is regrettable (but not at all surprising) that the British tabloid The Sun uses military language to describe the upcoming match. Come on, guys. It's just soccer. The real war is in Afghanistan.

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Debt Will be More Manageable with Smart Tax Cuts

Atlantic Review appreciates that two Wall Street Journal contributors respond to our blog post on their article.

George Pieler and Jens Laurson took issue with the French finance minister's claim that German productivity ails Europe's economy. Joerg Wolf agreed with their criticism in Atlantic Review's post Germany as Maya the Bee, but expressed disagreement on the issue of tax cuts, even though that was not a central part of their article.

Jens Laurson and George Pieler have now submitted the following riposte, which we appreciate and are happy to post here:

In commenting on our Wall Street Journal piece ("Not so Faaaaast, Germany"), Joerg Wolf, Editor of the Atlantic Review, disagrees with the following observation: "Germany should cut taxes.  But it should do so for its own good..."

Mr. Wolf makes three points which we should like to examine; hoping to clarify an evident misunderstanding that has arisen.

Mr. Wolf says Germany has been advised to cut taxes "especially of top earners, over the past twenty years.  Such advice is neither helpful nor original and creative."  Well, neither originality nor creativity was our intent, nor is that an argument against the argument. The question is, whether it is good advice. Certainly if it is such oft-repeated advice there must be something to it?  For the record, we think cutting taxes is good-indeed essential-advice. This is partly because Germany has one of the highest top personal tax rates in world (47%). More worryingly, the German state absorbs nearly half the nation's GDP which means an astonishing, if hidden loss of productivity.  This formula has worked for Germany so far, a reflection of popular acceptance of high taxes in exchange for government-guaranteed income security programs.  We don't think that will work so well in the future, though. The German tax cuts over the last two decades Mr. Wolf mentions, in any case far outweighed by the tax increases in the same time, are irrelevant to this discussion.

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