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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

France & Germany, United No Matter What

Sarkozy, the current President of France, is making a desperate attempt to conserve his position in next year's election. According to the latest polls, he is behind Mr. Hollande, the Socialist candidate, by 15 points. That is the main reason why Sarkozy can be seen on European television almost every day, shaking hands with the German chancellor and trying to save the E.U. (European Union) from falling apart financially and politically. He knows that if he is successful in averting an economic disaster, his compatriots just might give him a second chance.

Let's go back 70 years and remember the invasion of France by the Nazis; this was the second war between these two nations in the 20th century and the E.U. was created specifically to avoid a third conflict. It is therefore remarkable to see these traditional enemies as the stalwart anchors of a united Europe. I can assure you that the ruling political class on both sides of the border are vividly conscious of that fact: It is not, as some analysts imagine, just to save the euro, or even to prevent a recession among the 17 members. The main concept behind the urgency of finding an agreement or changing the existing rules has to do with the enormous fear that a separate and powerful Germany causes to all its neighbors, including of course the Russian Bear.

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Nobody in the European media has actually mentioned the primal shudder of another war on the old continent, but the older generation who still remembers the horrors of WWII is working feverishly to avoid the dismemberment of the 17 nations. I was too young to understand the events between 1940 and 1945, but I grew up listening to the tragic personal experiences of my older relatives and of many German and Italian adults who crossed my life later on. I understand now why my mother, born in Italy, threw away a magnificent photograph of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, and Stalin (a montage) playing pool: Each ball represented a different European country conquered and savaged by these monsters.

There is a strong reluctance among Germans to put more money into economies that were poorly managed; there is even a proposal floating around that would allow the Union to "take over" the finances of any country which shows an excessive deficit. It won't be approved, but it indicates the degree of impatience in Berlin's political circles. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, must balance the need to keep her majority in the Bundestag against the growing frustration of a large portion of its citizens who would prefer an independent Germany, the biggest economy in the E.U.

Berlusconi, the ex-prime minister of Italy, a billionaire who preferred luscious women to the task of governing, has almost bankrupted his country. I remember, being half-Italian and half-German, that Germany admires Rome, the Rome of Caesar, but not the modern one. During WWII, Mussolini was tolerated in public and despised in private; Hitler knew that Italy wasn't going to offer much resistance to the Allies, but my relatives who were called to fight with the Nazis told me that very few Italian soldiers felt a kinship with Germany. They were forced to fight and escaped as soon as they could.

Even today, Italians see the Germans with some suspicion and vice-versa. Italy is fun, which is why so many Nordic tourists flock to their beaches and historic cities in the summer. Germany is hard work and no fun, except maybe for their beer festivals. The two cultures are completely opposed and will never mesh completely. Thus the motive for keeping the E.U. together whatever the cost..and they will. It all comes together this week as the heads of state gather to draw the new rules.

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