IF you ask someone who is in favour of «the European project» what that project actually is, he will not reply: «The creation of a large and powerful unitary state without any unnecessary interference from populations that, because of their ignorance and stupidity, see no need for it» – a reply that at least would have the merit of honesty.

No: he will start mumbling about peace and the need to avoid a repetition of World War II, as if, were it not for directives from Brussels about how large bananas must be or what are the permitted scents in soap, Europeans would once again be at each other’s throats.

Actually, a forced European unity, conjured from no popular sentiment by a strange combination of bureaucratic mediocrity and gaseous utopianism, is more likely to lead to conflict than to prevent it; and the increasingly wide divergence of the interests of Franceand Germany is fast recalling the ghosts of the past. The French fear to be dominated; the Germans don’t want to be condescended to.


Relations between the two countries, often called (between them) the locomotive of Europe, have deteriorated since the arrival in power of Francois Hollande, who was elected on the promise of doing precisely the opposite of what the Germans think the French ought to do. Hollande was hoping for an alliance with Italy and the German Social Democrats if they returned to power; but the German Social Democrats are closer in policy to Angela Merkel than they are to Hollande (indeed, they are the authors of the very policies Hollande was elected to resist); and Italy can hardly help itself at the moment, let alone France. Hollande wanted to go for a grand slam when Germany held all the cards.

Two or three rather foolish recent statements have made matters worse. Hollande called for a state of «friendly tension» between the two countries, as if the differences between them were merely academic or a matter of cafe discussion, rather than of fundamental national interest.