A New Anglo-Saxon Axis in Europe

December 15, 1993|By ELIZABETH POND

BONN — Bonn.--As Europe's economics and finance ministers battle the red ink this week, the conspicuous allies are Germany and Britain -- not Germany and France.

Back in the old days, when Germany was divided and that anti-European Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, ruled in London, the French-German alliance had no rival. The Germans, lacking full sovereignty and still delegitimized in foreign policy by the history of the Holocaust, needed the moral authority of the French for any initiatives abroad.

The favorite French image was that the economically powerful Germany was the horse, but France was the rider that steered the horse.

That was then. This is now. Germany has been sovereign, and united, for three years. Europe's severest recession and worst unemployment in four decades have discredited old French-style government intervention and the continent's rigid social welfare. A GATT agreement liberalizing trade is urgently needed, however bitterly French farmers complain. British-style deregulation and a more flexible work force are in fashion. Margaret Thatcher is gone, and Prime Minister John Major is friendlier to Europe.

The result is that Bonn and London, the European Union's two largest exporters and contributors to the EU budget, have been cooperating to promote GATT and monetary discipline and avoid new deficit spending of the sort some French still favor. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl remains solicitous of the French, but his efforts this week exhibit more of a British color.

So will the EU now add a London leg and stand on a sturdier triple base than the familiar two legs of Bonn and Paris? And will that ''Anglo-Saxon'' connection (as the French term it) now make European decisions more favorable to the United States than in the past? Or is the British-German harmony on GATT and rejection of deficit stimulation -- as displayed at the weekend European summit and in yesterday's council of economics and finance ministers -- just a one-time coincidence? Will French-German coziness resume?

''It's not either-or,'' cautioned a senior British diplomat. But he noted that ''on a number of big trade and economic issues the French are dirigiste and against GATT. . . . We and the Germans want an open, liberal, free-trade system.''

Both Bonn and London also want a firm link with the U.S., he added, as well as enlargement of the EU to include the new democracies in Central Europe and free-market solutions to the unemployment that has left 17 million Europeans jobless.

These ''real-world and serious issues carry a weight of their own rather than the more political and indefinite [visions] about building Europe'' that the Germans share with the French, the diplomat continued. ''I think what has happened is that the interests of the two countries [Britain and France] have been brought more sharply into the open, and we work together.''

A French diplomat, pleased with the internal EU compensation Paris extracted from Bonn to protect French farmers against GATT, sees it differently. ''The Germans can't say no to us,'' he declared. ''But then they can't say no to the Americans either,'' he added somewhat ruefully.

The view of the Germans, who do hate to say no to anybody, is that French, British, German -- and American -- interests should all prove compatible. A senior German official, acknowledging Bonn's greater activism at the moment on behalf of its economic interests, stressed that Germany would not abandon France, but would make every effort to bring Paris along on decisions.

A second German official emphasized the groundlessness of American worry that the Germans would forfeit a GATT agreement to please the French.

''I draw one conclusion,'' he summed up: ''Honest, common-sense efforts which are clearly oriented to our own interests -- but also the common interests -- form the best method.''

That translates into French as greater German nationalism, the French diplomat commented. But it also translates into English as a greater voice for London than Great Britain has enjoyed in a decade.

Elizabeth Pond is a free-lance journalist based in Bonn.

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