Earlier this year, European political junkies were treated to one of the odder displays in recent memory: a German Chancellor planning campaign stops in France for the election of a French president. This would have been unimaginable at nearly any other point in the two countries’ history; many viewed it as a sign that the old enmities were fading away and Europe was well and truly unifying.So much for that theory. French President Sarkozy has announced that Chancellor Merkel would no longer be appearing at his campaign rallies, after realizing that French voters were less than enamored of his newfound enthusiasm for their Teutonic neighbor.As the FT points out, the end of the affair should hardly have come as a surprise. Many political actions that are de rigeur in France would be totally unacceptable in Germany. Furthermore, elite enthusiasm for the transnational “European project” isn’t shared by the public. Academics and journalists may like politicians who cross borders during elections, but on the campaign trail this has always been a political loser:
This is the time when a nation takes a snapshot of its evolving political identity and renews its social contract by electing its leaders. At such a uniquely delicate moment, a politician visiting from abroad will always find it difficult to fit in.The lesson from the aborted Sarkozy-Merkel initiative is that this remains true even in an integrating Europe. History and political culture make the differences between German Christian Democrats and right-of-centre French politicians, especially those of Gaullist descent such as Mr Sarkozy, too glaring to be easily ignored. The dawn of pan-European politics is not yet upon us.
For the past few years, a mountain of evidence has been piling up that Europe isn’t unifying. This is just the latest pebble. Expect more.