the births of the modern French and German nations, the two countries'
national identities have been defined in part by their opposition to the
other. The French revolution culminated in the monarchy-ousting wars
against, among others, the German powers of Prussia and the Holy Roman
Empire, which also ceded long-contested territory to France. Napoleon
Bonaparte galvanized French nationalism by waging war against those same
countries, and his victories against the German states so wounded them
that, when Germany finally unified two generations later, it was seen as
a moment of not just German national pride but of revenge against
When Wilhelm the First proclaimed
the creation of the German Empire in 1871, finally fulfilling the
long-stymied dreams of unification, he did so not in Berlin or Vienna or
Munich but in Versailles, the immaculate French palace in the suburb of
Paris, which his army had just conquered. A definitive painting of the
moment, The Proclamation of the Foundation of the German Reich
by Anton von Werner, shows Wilhelm smirking as he stands before the
throne from which generations of French rulers had frustrated German
ambitions. Many factors led to the two world wars, but this rise of
German nationalism, which formed and militarized in opposition to French
nationalism, played a significant role in the first war, the German
humiliations during which contributed to the second.
In 1949, their two societies devastated by the culmination of centuries of war, French and West German leaders came together to end their conflict once and for all through the magic of economics.
The French Foreign Minister proposed that both nations surrender
control of their steel and coal industries to the free market,
integrating their production across France and Germany. The plan would
make both nations richer and more efficient, and it would also ensure
that, should they return to war, the integrated steel and coal markets
would collapse, leaving both nations without the means for mechanized
warfare. It was so brilliant that Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the
Netherlands all asked to join, and over time the the European Coal and
Steel Community expanded in size and scope to the European Union.
if the European Coal and Steel Community was founded to achieve
French-German peace through economic integration, then over time it was
economic integration that became the greater focus. The union expanded,
the economic integration deepened, and soon France and Germany were,
though the two most powerful members of the club, part of something much
bigger. Successive treaties integrated the energy economy, trade
tariffs, immigration, and the fiscal union of the Euro.
the European Union's emphasis on economics and on wider Europe may have
ultimately distracted from, and maybe even undermined, its original
1949 mission of French-German cooperation. As the very different French
and German economies dealt in their very different ways
with the debt crisis -- itself an unintended but direct result of the
widened fiscal union -- their leadership has naturally diverged. The two
countries are economically and politically structured to want
different things from the union, and to seek diverging courses. This didn't create any cultural tensions, which are much older than the EU, but the two are mutually reinforcing.
Hollande's win was a culmination of that tension. "Hollande win means
G[ermany] no longer on same page with F[rance]," American economist
Austan Goolsbee tweeted. "Didn't seem possible but life about to get much harder in the deadzone, er, euro zone."