Angela Merkel's announcement that she will actively support Nicolas Sarkozy in the upcoming French presidential elections came as a surprise to many. And although I have not been a staunch supporter of Merkel’s European policy, I am convinced that she is doing the right thing. But I was also irritated that many Germans felt alienated and spoke about interference in domestic affairs.
In Franco-German relations, this kind of ‘interference’ is not a new phenomenon at all. In 1983, Francois Mitterrand helped Helmut Kohl with a speech in front of the German Bundestag in which he supported plans to deploy Pershing missiles. Today, this speech is remembered as the ‘Raketenrede’. Similarly, in 1992, when France was about to hold its referendum on the Maastricht Treaty, Helmut Kohl spoke via live transmission to some 500 students at the Sorbonne. The speech was not only broadcasted on national TV it was also part of the Yes campaign of President Mitterrand. Of course, a referendum is not a presidential election – but everyone who knows how the 5th Republic works also knows that referenda are about the support of the President, as Charles de Gaulle had to experience in a deplorable way in 1969.
So, is Markel’s French campaign not that new after all? I think her approach is not only new but genuinely innovative. More importantly, it is a first step to building (or at least experimenting with) a transnational democracy, which is a necessary byproduct - if not a condition for moving towards a true fiscal union.
In a way, Merkel is addressing the same issues that were already broadly discussed a decade ago during the European Convention which drafted the European Constitution. One of the key issues was how to organize transnational democracy - and how to strengthen pan-European parties. Proposals were made to introduce cross border constituencies in order to overcome the national focus of European Parliament elections. Another proposal which circulated in the think tank community was that each and every EU citizen should be allowed to have one additional vote in another EU country – with the right to change the choice of country every 5 years or so. This proposal would have made it difficult for all the Berlusconis, Orbans and Kaczynskis in Europe to win elections because many European citizens would have chosen to vote in Italy, Hungary or Poland. (Actually, if this was in implemented, many European citizens would probably opt for a vote in Germany next year….)
The idea might be considered strange. But the principle of ‘interference’ in domestic affairs is also weird and above all outdated in today’s world. Just consider the following examples: Germany should not withdraw from nuclear energy without consulting its neighbors - if we want to build a European energy market. The euro crisis showed us that Greek tax issues and retirement ages matter for the rest of Europe. France goes to war in Libya, but without Germany. Many in Europe consider it as a ‘beggar-thy-neighbor’ policy when Germany improves its export position through the reduction of labor costs. And we all want open Danish borders. So what is wrong if we discuss these European issues in a transnational setting and organize our elections in a way that we tell our neighbors what we want them to do? Or at least what we hope they will do? I’d like to see the German Greens to lobby for nuclear exit in France or Mr. Gabriel to discuss (and question) Francois Hollande’s retirement schemes.
I guess the crucial point here is that every country needs to realize how much its election and its policies affect the surrounding countries and that therefore, every national election must be embedded in a European context, especially this upcoming French one. France is still lagging behind when it comes to structural reforms, and the next president will not be able to avoid the topic. This is probably what Ms. Merkel is going to tell the French people. The real question is: does she speak some French? It would make the message a little more charmant…..
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