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This Time, Germany's Rise Doesn't Worry The French

Dec 10, 2011
Originally published on December 15, 2011 5:56 pm
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The partnership between Germany and France has been at the core of a united Europe since the bloc was founded in 1957, and now many French people see the balance of power in that partnership changing. As NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports, this makes some of them uneasy.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Nowhere is a newly empowered Germany more threatening to the National psyche than in France, and for the last few weeks, the topic of a German resurgence in Europe has been the focus of public debate.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOREIGN LANGUAGE CONVERSATION)

BEARDSLEY: Magazine editors have their say on this news talk show, one of the many devoted to the so-called Germanization of Europe. Bruno Roger-Petit is with left-leaning weekly Le Nouvel Observateur.

BRUNO ROGER-PETIT: (Through Translator) Today our sovereignty has been completely amputated under German pressure. Unprecedented antisocial budgets of austerity and suffering are being imposed on us by a Europe under German dictate.

BEARDSLEY: French President Nicolas Sarkozy has gone to great lengths to sell the new European pact he negotiated with Chancellor Angela Merkel as made in Germany and France. In a nationally televised speech last week, Sarkozy told the French they should not fear losing their sovereignty. France, Germany and Europe have the same goals he said, but the opposition's socialists charged that Sarkozy had given away the store.

In a noisy parliamentary session, socialist radical party head, Jean-Marc Ayrault, says Merkel got everything she wanted.

JEAN-MARC AYRAULT: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: She got her way on eurobonds and the role of the European Central Bank, so where exactly does France come in, he asked. Another prominent socialist compared Sarkozy to Edouard Daladier, the French premier who signed the 1938 Munich Accord, ceding part of Czechoslovakia to Hitler.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW)

BEARDSLEY: A satirical political puppet show has had a field day with Merkel's apparent domination of Sarkozy. In this skit Sarkozy has to get his phone bills approved by a schoolmarmish-looking Merkel who yells at him for having too many long distance calls. References to Germany's warmongering past have been popping up all over Europe. In Greece, there is talk of a Fourth Reich, and Italian television has depicted Merkel wearing a Kaiser helmet with a spike.

But in France, the hand wringing over Germany's ascension seems to be more about politicking just five months before a presidential election. Out on the streets I can find anyone who feels threatened by next door neighbor Deutschland. Au contraire, 59-year-old Jean Lechaine works seven days a week to bring his fruits and vegetables to Paris street markets like this one. He says it's impossible to find good help because of France's 35-hour work week.

JEAN LECHAINE: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: The Germans are disciplined than the French he says. That's why they're doing OK. We all need to be operating on the same level in Europe for it to work. The Italians, Spanish, Portuguese, everybody. Inside Paris bistro Le Gaulois, a lunchtime crowd gathers for hearty French dishes like veal sauté and escargot. French food is the best says patron Pierre Guimet, but he says has no problem following German ways when it comes to the economy.

PIERRE GUIMET: (Through Translator) What they're saying in the media is baloney. We are working with the Germans and within Europe. They're the leaders, but they're working alongside France, and we need stricter fiscal rules. It's a good thing.

BEARDSLEY: The owner of Le Gaulois says he's too busy for an interview, but as I head out the door, he tells me we've come out of two world wars, it's certainly not Germany or a closer Europe that scares us, he says, it's the Chinese. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.