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Posted by Helen Tuesday, September 28, 2004

As we have discussed several times on this blog, it is easy to miss news if you rely on the main-stream media. So here is an update of politics in Germany and France.

In North Rhine-Westphalia, Chancellor Schröder’s Social-Democrats went down by only 2 per cent, while the Christian Democrats lost seven points off their 1999 vote total. Not very dramatic and quite similar to the sort of developments we have seen in this country. The government is not popular but the opposition seems unable to capitalize on that.

In France, on the other hand, President Chirac’s Union for a Popular Movement has lost five seats in the Senate, forfeiting its majority. Prime Minister Jean Pierre Raffarin has won a seat. You can have a strange collection of elected and unelected positions in France, so M Raffarin will not need to resign. However, there has been some talk that, as Prime Minister, he is on the way out. He will not have to leave the corridors of power.

Meanwhile, Chirac’s challenger in waiting, Nicolas Sarkozy has said in an interview that Turkey could become member of the EU only after there has been a referendum on the subject in France. Interestingly, he did not say anywhere else in the EU. Perhaps, it did not occur to him. No-one seems to mind nationalism if it emanates from the French.

M Sarkozy added that we could not even think of Turkish membership for fifteen years or more. Prime Minister Raffarin said something similar last week, mentioning the large Muslim population of Turkey as being a problem. There are not many ways of solving that.

There are several reasons why major EU governments should be against Turkish membership. The one they always bring up is the issue of human rights, but that is becoming more and more difficult to use, especially as the Turkish parliament has finally passed the legal reforms, without adding the controversial criminalization of adultery.

Then there is the question of money, not much spoken of, since the shabby treatment of the East Europeans is becoming more and more obvious.

The problem of so many Muslims is clearly uppermost in French minds. The fonctionnaires and intellectuels of that country are already going through another agonizing self-examination process, triggered off by the undoubted dilution of their influence in the EU with the recent wave of enlargement. Despite spending large sums of money on Institutes Françaises and language teaching in the applicant states, France has had the humiliation of watching them all take to English with the greatest of ease.

Finally, there is the great unmentionable, though, like all unmentionables, it is discussed off the record: foreign policy attitudes. France has been labouring for years to construct a common European foreign policy, which would, by a strange coincidence, resemble French foreign policy. Success has always eluded her and the situation has been made worse by the entry of ten new members, eight of whom look to the United States and, to a lesser degree, Britain as the countries that helped them in their many hours of need and who are likely to help others now. In short, they are not anti-American and are uneasy about Franco-German games with Russia. Turkey, too, is pro-American on the whole and suspicious of Russia. Should that country ever come anywhere near membership of the European Union, the French dream of a “European” foreign policy to counterbalance the “arrogant” Americans (coming from the French?) will vanish in a puff of smoke.