PARIS – In the debates raging over the future of the European Union and the eurozone, Germany always takes center stage. It has the largest economy, accounting for 28% of eurozone GDP and 25% of the eurozone’s population. It is running a current-account surplus that is now larger than China’s – indeed, the largest in the world in absolute value. And, while weighted majorities can overrule it on some issues, everyone acknowledges that little can be done in the eurozone unless Germany agrees.
But the emphasis on Germany, though justified, should not lead to an underestimation of France’s critical role. France not only accounts for roughly 22% of eurozone GDP and 20% of its population – behind only Germany – but also has the healthiest demography in the eurozone, whereas the German population is projected to decline over the next decade.
At the same time, France’s critical role reflects more than its size. Indeed, in terms of influencing outcomes in Europe, France is as important as Germany, for three reasons.
First, France is an indispensable link between southern and northern Europe at a time of growing economic and financial division between creditors and debtors (a fissure that has begun to assume a cultural dimension). An active France can play a bridging role, leveraging its strong relationship with Germany (a friendship that is a pillar of the EU) and its proximity and cultural affinities to the Mediterranean.