How has France managed to combine strong nationalism with a central role in the EU? Essay

France has always had an interesting and slightly differing stance on the European Union (EU) compared to the other member states. The question above is about how, on the one hand, France is a founding member of the EU and has always been in favour of the idea of a European Community, but on the other hand, it values its sovereignty and own attributes as an individual country. This question is very interesting in that it is unusual how a country has combined two extremes.

Also, it may be an invaluable example for countries applying to join the EU in coming years. In assessing the argument and following it through, there are three main aspects. In what way does France have strong nationalist values and why has it upheld these values? How has France been a part of the European Union, what role has it played in its development and how much has it encouraged/hindered it throughout the history of the European Community? Lastly, an evaluation is necessary. How has France managed to combine what seem to be two extreme views on nationalism/sovereignty and the European State?

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!


order now

France is one of the most advanced western economies and many people feel that it is a model of an excellent democratic government. It is a presidential system where the president appoints the Prime Minister and a Council of Ministers.1 The President has ultimate power and can dissolve parliament making him the most politically powerful head of state in Western Europe.2 However, in times of cohabitation where the President and Prime Minister are from opposing parties, the president cannot easily get a majority on a bill or law passing through government.3 This makes it a very fair and democratic process, representing the views of all the people. Linked to this, France has strong ideals of sovereignty and prides itself on an excellent welfare state.

These attributes are valued in France and therefore it has at times acted in such a manner as to prevent losing them. After the European Economic Community (EEC) had first been set up, it constantly underwent changes and with some of these changes came the threat of loss of sovereignty. There was a move from the old unanimous decision making to qualified majority voting (QMV) introducing the possibility that a member state could be forced to implement European legislation/ law against which it had voted in the first place.4 It meant that an individual member state could no longer veto any legislation.5 Charles DeGaulle upheld nationalism and France’s sovereignty by coming to an agreement in 1966 with the other member states called the Luxembourg Compromise.

6 It meant that countries could still veto legislation, it lasted until the 1980’s when the QMV system came into place.7 In more recent times, individual member states have had to give up monetary policy, limit inflation to roughly 2.5%, and even sacrifice some fiscal policy due to the Growth and Stabilisation Pact that states budget deficits must be kept below 3% of total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or else penalties will be incurred.8 Losing economic freedom, especially with the arrival of the Euro has been a problem for most member states, not only France. It is very worrying for governments because the interest rate set in Brussels at the EU headquarters applies to all countries that have adopted the Single Currency, and if not all business cycles have converged, it may adversely affect certain countries.

A general loss of sovereignty when joining the European Community is that it is expected that countries should sacrifice national interest in favour of the common good.9 Two decades after the EEC was first formed, it was decided that change should come about both in the way of ‘widening’ and ‘deepening’ of the EEC.10 ‘Widening’ in the sense of accepting more members into the Community providing they meet certain criteria, expanding the Single Market allowing more free trade and competition, and creating more security still within geographical Europe.11 ‘Deepening’ in the sense that more integration should come about with removal of all barriers and tariffs, handing over some monetary control to Brussels, and further movement towards Monetary Union and a Single Currency.

DeGaulle did not appreciate the idea of ‘widening’ or ‘deepening’ for a number of reasons and halted the process by vetoing British entry into the EEC twice in the 1960’s, and preventing the move to QMV as discussed above.12 DeGaulle, just as with France, had a grandiose image of the EEC, with only the most advanced states being members and wanted to establish France as the leading member (perhaps the reason for vetoing British membership is that he felt Britain would threaten this position). By enlarging the EEC, France would have proportionately less power within the Community.13 However, there was an ulterior motive; economic interests were also involved. French farmers were benefiting from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and by inviting new members the subsidies would have to be spread thinner, disadvantaging French farmers and ultimately the French economy.

France is a founding member of the EU (originally known as the EEC), along with Italy, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg (the last three are also known as the Benelux countries). French citizen Jean Monnet was a proponent of the neofunctionalist theory of European integration. Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman were behind the first idea of building a united Europe. Originally, France assumed two roles for the founding of the EU. One was to ensure peace in Europe, especially with Germany, putting an end to the conflicts that spanned more than 30 years.14 The other reason was to produce a counterweight to American power.15 Both of these, but in particular the first reason is extremely important and should encourage France to remain a strong presence within the EU.

France has always been very independent in the EU; its role and level of involvement have changed throughout the history of the EU. There have been times when France has encouraged and spear-headed the development of the Union, and others when it has actively tried to resist change, mostly in its own interests. DeGaulle originally envisaged the EEC as a looser inter-governmental forum knitting together member states. He promoted this idea through the Fouchet Plan, which later failed against opposition from other member states because it would undermine European integration.16 Whilst in power, Pompidou eagerly promoted enlargement and was the leading influence at the Hague summit in 1969, which encouraged enlargement and Economic and Monetary Union.

17 On 1st January 1973, a first enlargement of the European Community, to include the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark followed Customs Union.18 Mitterand was also a pro-EU president, especially supporting Single European Act (SEA) and the construction of the three pillars at the Maastricht Treaty.19 The aim was to “create a genuine single European market guaranteeing freedom of movement for people, goods and capital, as well as freedom to provide services anywhere in the Community”.20 In some ways, DeGaulle did very little for the EU. The EEC and the CAP had already been formed when he came into power in 1958.

In 1965 he initiated the ’empty chair’ crisis when the other member states were considering moving to the QMV system. In more recent times, serious controversy has arisen because, under EU law, France had to halt state subsidies (also known as ‘development grants’) from twenty major firms in different industries.21 These firms were classed as National Champions and were given tax allowances, capital donations, and other subsidies. Ironic considering that the selected firms were often large inefficient firms, sometimes with monopoly power, for example, Air France. France, however was severely annoyed when after numerous arguments, it was told that it absolutely had to remove the subsidies because they created an unfair advantage.

France has had many different roles in the building of Europe over the last fifty years. France’s participation and actions in Europe have been both criticised and applauded. One can assess how France focuses on nationalism and sovereignty at times whilst also being a leading nation in Europe alongside Germany. The question is why has France’s position and involvement in Europe changed throughout the course of the European Community? The involvement of France and the popularity of Europe in France vary with changing governments and undulating business cycles. The extreme parties such as the French Communist Party and the Front Nationale have support from people who are unhappy about French integration in Europe.

When the parliament consists of more seats from one of the extreme parties, initiative in Europe may subside. Summarising previous comments, DeGaulle had a grandiose vision of a loosely woven community consisting of a handful of powerful and leading states in the EU, therefore very much against enlargement of the community.22 Pompidou on the other hand was keen on enlargement and encouraged the acceptance of the United Kingdom, Denmark and Ireland. This illustrates that different Presidents will have a significant influence on how involved France is. Also, it has been observed that the popularity of integration is closely linked to the business cycle.

In times of prosperity it is generally favoured, but is often blamed for the problems in times of economic stagnation.23 DeGaulle was clever because when the EEC was still young and inexperienced, he combined France’s interest along with a pro Europe stance. He managed to pocket one quarter of the CAP benefiting French farmers enormously, and at the same time seem eager about the EEC. France is occasionally accused of being a bully in Europe. Eager to extract as much as possible but not always as willing when it comes to change and new policy that may result in France receiving less benefits. It has gone along with many things such as the European Courts but unfairly forced other member states into accepting some issues, for example, boycotting Uruguay Round negotiations until it got a ‘cultural exception’, allowing subsidisation of French films.

In conclusion, France is unusual in Europe. Although it was founding member, it has at times been extremely reluctant to conform to change. This may be because of the number of different influences upon French European policy, such as the need for peace in Europe, to be a counterweight to American power, changing governments and Presidents, and fluctuating business cycles.

“The complexity of the French approach to the European Community has stemmed from the fact that it has always included elements both of Jean Monnet’s vision of the inevitable logic of greater European co-operation, and of Gaullist rhetoric.”24 France has felt the need, more than other European states, to preserve its sovereignty, but at the same time, perhaps unfairly, it enjoys the benefits of EU membership. Although it has had to give up some sovereignty it has maintained strong nationalism through avoidance of policies that it disagrees with, and, ultimately, by withdrawing from anything that would adversely affect the French nation.25

Bibliography

1. John S. Ambler with Lawrence Scheinman, 1971, The Government and Politics of France, Houghton, Boston

2. Ian Derbyshire, 1990, Politics In France: From Giscard to Mitterrand, Chambers, Edinburgh

3. Andrew Knapp & Vincent Wright, 2001, The Government and Politics of France (Fourth Edition), Routledge, London & New York

4. Geoffrey K. Roberts & Patricia Hogwood, 1997, European Politics Today, Manchester University Press, Manchester & New York

5. Anne Stevens (Series Editor: Vincent Wright), 1992, The Government and Politics of France, Macmillan, London

6. http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr, 19th January, 2003

7. http://www.economist.co.uk, 19th January, 2003

8. http://www.europe.org, 19th January, 2003

9. Fellow Student, Presentation: France and the EU, November 2002

1,880 words

1 Geoffrey K. Roberts & Patricia Hogwood, 1997, European Politics Today, Manchester University Press, Manchester & New York, p.350

2 Geoffrey K. Roberts & Patricia Hogwood, 1997, European Politics Today, Manchester University Press, Manchester & New York, p.350

3 Geoffrey K. Roberts & Patricia Hogwood, 1997, European Politics Today, Manchester University Press, Manchester & New York, p.351

4 Andrew Knapp & Vincent Wright, 2001, The Government and Politics of France (Fourth Edition), Routledge, London & New York, p. 29

5 Andrew Knapp & Vincent Wright, 2001, The Government and Politics of France (Fourth Edition), Routledge, London & New York, p. 29

6 Anne Stevens (Series Editor: Vincent Wright), 1992, The Government and Politics of France, Macmillan, London, p.290

7 Anne Stevens (Series Editor: Vincent Wright), 1992, The Government and Politics of France, Macmillan, London, p.290

8 Andrew Knapp & Vincent Wright, 2001, The Government and Politics of France (Fourth Edition), Routledge, London & New York, p. 29

9 Andrew Knapp & Vincent Wright, 2001, The Government and Politics of France (Fourth Edition), Routledge, London & New York, p. 30

10 Andrew Knapp & Vincent Wright, 2001, The Government and Politics of France (Fourth Edition), Routledge, London & New York, p. 30

11 Andrew Knapp & Vincent Wright, 2001, The Government and Politics of France (Fourth Edition), Routledge, London & New York, p. 30

12 Anne Stevens (Series Editor: Vincent Wright), 1992, The Government and Politics of France, Macmillan, London, p.290

13 Andrew Knapp & Vincent Wright, 2001, The Government and Politics of France (Fourth Edition), Routledge, London & New York, p. 30

14 http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr, 19th January, 2003

15 http://www.economist.co.uk, 19th January, 2003

16 Anne Stevens (Series Editor: Vincent Wright), 1992, The Government and Politics of France, Macmillan, London, p.289

17 John S. Ambler with Lawrence Scheinman, 1971, The Government and Politics of France, Houghton, Boston, p.218

18 http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr, 19th January, 2003

19 Andrew Knapp & Vincent Wright, 2001, The Government and Politics of France (Fourth Edition), Routledge, London & New York, p. 30

20 http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr, 19th January, 2003

21 Andrew Knapp & Vincent Wright, 2001, The Government and Politics of France (Fourth Edition), Routledge, London & New York, p. 360

22 Anne Stevens (Series Editor: Vincent Wright), 1992, The Government and Politics of France, Macmillan, London, p.289

23 Fellow Student, Presentation: France and the EU, November 2002

24 Anne Stevens (Series Editor: Vincent Wright), 1992, The Government and Politics of France, Macmillan, London, p.290 quoting Philippe Moreau Defarges, “France and Europe”, in Godt (1989, p.227)

25 Fellow Student, Presentation: France and the EU, November 2002