Britain’s favourite Frenchman, Michel Barnier, is in the Calais region today where he will address a conference about his part in Brexit and perhaps give a further indication as to his presidential aspirations. The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator was described in yesterday’s Le Figaro as the man who can ‘unite the right’ and in doing so present a credible alternative to Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen in 2022.
Barnier presides over a political initiative called Patriotes et européens and he explained its concept to Le Figaro: ‘Patriot and European, this means that I believe in the force of the nations, the respect of national identities and France as a country of influence at the head of the European nations.’
What Barnier and a great many of the political class in France fail to understand is the shift in attitude towards the EU in the last year. There is the manner in which Covid has exposed the incompetency and disunity at the heart of the EU, and undoubtedly Brexit has shown the eurosceptic French that it is possible to escape the tyranny of the EU. Protracted, as 17.4 million Britons will testify, but possible with enough determination.
But there’s another reason why the French have fallen out of love with the EU, and that’s Germany. Last November a German journalist for Die Zeit caused something of a stir in France when she ridiculed the country’s handling of coronavirus (this was before Germany’s own confused response to a second wave), dubbing France ‘Absurdistan’.
Increasingly, however, the French people are realising that the real absurdity is believing Germany still values France and is committed to the EU project. The French people might be coming to this realisation, but the political class retains an ardent faith in the Franco-German relationship, rather like those in Westminster who quaintly believe Britain enjoys a ‘special relationship’ with the USA.
The current affairs magazine, Marianne, recently devoted an issue to this delusion entitled ‘How Germany has fleeced France’, chronicling the ways — agriculturally, militarily and industrially — that Germany has exploited France in recent decades.