"Franco-German Fudge"

If Europe is ever to become a genuine counterweight to the world's remaining superpower, Chirac and Schröder's compromise is a step in the wrong direction

You've heard it before, but for all his crimes, Henry Kissinger did utter a pretty good one-liner when he was US Secretary of State, and it bears repeating now: "When I need to get in touch with the Kremlin, I know who to call. When I need to get in touch with Europe, who do I call?"

With the 40th anniversary of the Franco-German friendship treaty, signed by Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer in 1963, coming up on Wednesday, French president Jacques Chirac and German chancellor Gerhard Schröder met in Paris early last week to cook up a package of agreements with which to celebrate. Among them was a proposal, an attempt to answer to Kissinger's still unanswered question. The problem? It doesn't.

From de Gaulle's day to the present, the French have always hoped to see a "Europe of Nations" wherein relatively powerful national entities would loosely cooperate with each other. It's the sort of goal that comes naturally to one of the largest and most proud European countries. Germany, on the other hand, has tended to see integration into Europe as a way of saving itself from itself and has been far more willing to trade a certain level of sovereignty for a federal model that would help guarantee peace and prosperity across the continent. Those are oversimplifications, of course, but that's been the gist of the dialogue for decades.

What France and Germany and the other 13 members of the European Union (the total rising to 25 next year) do agree on, though, is a vision of Europe as the world's most competitive economy by 2010 (not likely, for several reasons and politically unified enough to counter, or at least temper US unilateralism (see What the World Needs Now).

This will require, among other things, a streamlining of the jungle of bureaucracies in Brussels. German foreign minister Joschka Fischer's proposal for the past few years has been a single European president. France has not been alone in shirking from that idea. What Chirac and Schröder have come up with instead are two European presidents: one for the European Council and one for the European Commission, to be elected by the European Parliament.

It's pretty clear what the British think of all this. "A classic example of European Fudge," snorts the conservative Economist, while the leftish Guardian agrees: "Franco-German fudge."

Reaction on the rest of the continent has been mixed. Those in favor, such as Italy and Spain, are primarily relieved to see the two prime European movers and shakers back away from Fischer's "super-president". But if Europe is to eventually speak with one voice, and if that voice is to be heard, the comments of Finnish premier Paavo Lipponen nail the problem: "We have to make the structure of the Union more simple, not more complicated."

Elsewhere

"Probably it is only possible now, after the realization of the terrible things that the Germans did to other nations, to remember the extent to which they themselves became the victims of the war they unleashed," writes novelist Peter Schneider in the New York Times. With the imminent publication of WG Sebald's On the Natural History of Destruction, both he and Christopher Hitchens in the Atlantic Monthly examine and ponder the recent slate of books in Germany addressing a topic that was once taboo.

Time Europe's cover package on the continent's "love-hate relationship" with the US features dueling viewpoints by Brian Eno and Christopher Caldwell. (David Hudson)