France Is Back In Europe, But On What Terms?

When Nicolas Sarkozy became President of France, he declared that his country was back in mainstream Europe. Since then, Sarkozy has thrown himself into the European political fray.

His energy – combined with the negotiating talents of German Chancellor Angela Merkel – overcame antagonism toward the new reform treaty that EU leaders just ratified in Lisbon, putting the European Union back on its feet after two years of crippling indecision. But this triumph marked only a partial return by France to the European fold. The French must now resolve their own ambiguous attitudes about Europe, which have affected national policies for decades.

For half a century, France has mixed two radically different approaches to Europe. Some French see the EU as a community where national interests inexorably converge. At the other extreme is the Gaullist belief that the EU is nothing more than a “power multiplier” for France to defend its own national interests.

Rather than using Europe to project French ideas across the continent, France needs to develop a culture of genuine power-sharing and compromise. Such a sea change would have profound implications for French policies across a broad spectrum, from internal EU issues and economics to foreign policy and Europe’s role in the world.