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The election of François Hollande: a chance to disrupt the Franco-German bipolarity

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The French citizens will be called to vote for their next president on May 6. It seems that the leader of the socialist opposition Mr François Hollande, will win the elections over the conservative president Nikolas Sarkozy. Up to this date the oratory of François Hollande, at least as far as the eurocrisis is concerned, contradicts the German position on each and every point. Should Mr Hollande be elected and this rhetoric be channeled into concrete political action, then it seems clear that the relationship between the governments of France and Germany will not be as close as it was during the time of Nikolas Sarkozy. If we are to assume that this will indeed be the case, a plausible idea comes to mind: this is the ideal opportunity to disrupt the Franco-German bipolarity in EU politics, in order to change the balance of power and to establish a more pluralist setting.

The election of Hollande can indeed be the turning point in European Union politics, as it can herald the start of an era where other European nations such as the UK and Italy will revise their approach towards European politics, in order to exploit the power vacuum that will result from this potential imbalance in the relations between the French and German governments.

On one hand the UK has the unique opportunity to reestablish its relations with continental Europe, so as to finally gain some kind of diplomatic advantages, which it now misses due to its love-hate relationship with the EU. In my view, as a person coming from Greece, there really can be no healthy European integration without the involvement of the British. You just cannot have a car with only two wheels, as is currently the case with the Franco-Germans. It is of course well known that the British have all sorts of objections, when it comes to further integration, most of which are in one way or another deeply rooted in the diverse cultural evolution between them and continental Europe (different legal, political, economic systems among many others). However the events during this eurocrisis have made it crystal clear that they can no longer afford to remain in denial. If they are involved they can in fact change many of the things they consider unacceptable, especially now that the situation is quite fluid; whereas if they are not involved they will simply be dragged along paths they do not like, as it has so often been the case. To be involved means to have your fate in your own hands and the British cannot miss this opportunity to revise their relations with continental Europe.

On the other hand we have Italy, a nation that has always been at the heart of everything that can be called “European”. For many years Italy had a secondary role in European politics, mostly due to internal political instability. The country did not really use its full potential to influence decisions in one way or another, leaving the field open for the leaders of France and Germany to determine European politics in the way that best suited their own interests. Italy is a major European nation in all respects and the cultural ties it maintains with the rest of the European South and to some extent with the Balkans can help immensely in opening up the European debate by including the voices of other nations. It can help in disrupting the monotony of the German hard line that is always embellished with the empty formalities of the French — for instance the Stability and Growth Pact contains the word “growth” due to the insistence of the French (similar to the “growth” Monsieur Hollande now speaks of), without however containing any single provision towards real economic growth; hence the word only obfuscates and confuses a number of things, serving only as a jingle for political fakery.

As I mentioned above we need a car with four wheels. European politics cannot be Franco-German politics, since that does not include the voices and the needs of other groups of states like the British and their Nordic partners, the European South, the Balkans that will over the next decades be fully integrated and others. In short the power balance in the EU needs to become multi-polar, to escape from the arid Franco-German bipolarity that is devoid of dynamism and pluralism.

All the above are not said to degrade the importance of either France or Germany. On the contrary, they are based on the assumption that these two nations will continue to be essential to European affairs. In my opinion, we as Europeans cannot operate effectively under the current setting. A plurality of approaches, guarantees a more inclusive and effective integration process. I know that all sorts of objections can be raised to my arguments, especially regarding the series of perverse policies the EU has in place – after all I have been criticizing them myself all the time. Despite that I really think that a correction to these ineffective policies can only come through the dismantling of the Franco-German bipolarity, which at this point inevitably implies the promotion of the UK and Italy into leading EU nations.

What we currently need in order to change the course of European integration towards our mutual advantage, is a couple of “rate-busters” that will put an end to the monotony of the Franco-Germans. These are the UK and Italy and now is the ideal chance to rearrange the balance of power in European Union politics, by exploiting the possible power vacuum between Paris and Berlin.