The Return of Franco-German Leadership

PARIS – Whoever wins September’s parliamentary election in Germany, the time has come once again for a major Franco-German initiative. Regardless of their economic conditions or their confidence – or lack of it – in each other, France and Germany are more than ever jointly responsible for the future, if not the very survival, of the European project.

Are there alternatives to Franco-German leadership of the European Union? Joining Great Britain with them in a Club of Three would be a good idea, but it is out of the question nowadays. Britain has largely excluded itself from any leadership role in Europe. Gordon Brown is barely surviving as prime minister, and the Conservatives, whose return to power in the next year is almost certain, are as provincially euro-skeptic as ever, if not more so. Europe simply cannot count on the British, at least for a while.

The idea of a Club of Six, floated by Nicolas Sarkozy early in his presidency, was always abstract and is now untenable. Given Silvio Berlusconi’s sexcapades, the Italy that he leads cannot be taken seriously, while Spain is out of the running for an EU leadership role, owing to its dire economic conditions. As for Poland, although the bumbling Kaczynski “twins” have been removed from power, the country’s fixation on security in its immediate neighborhood is incompatible with true European leadership.

Since the other 21 EU members never liked the idea of a Club of Six to begin with, it is just as well that such a vision has been buried, probably forever. So where but France and Germany can Europe turn for leadership?