Comment by Marcel H. VAN HERPEN

Director Cicero Foundation

published in the Financial Times of 6 February 2003

At the occasion of the 40 years' anniversary of the French-German Friendship Treaty, both countries have formulated far-reaching proposals, such as, for instance, double passports for their citizens, preparing the way for a future federation. Recently both countries have also strengthened their cooperation in the Convention for the Future of Europe and have developed a common - critical - position vis-à-vis US policy towards Iraq.

Their stance has provoked a US inspired counter-offensive, led by Jose Maria Aznar and Tony Blair, who rallied eight - old and new - EU member states behind an initiative openly supporting the US policy and challenging the French-German tandem. This situation could prove potentially dangerous for the internal cohesion of the EU. It seems that an enlarging EU is splitting into two parts. On the one hand is Fringe Europe, a group of member states at the western, northern, southern and (new) eastern rims of the EU. On the other is Core Europe, led by France and Germany. Wolfgang Schäuble and Karl Lamers, the German Christian Democrats, first used the expression 'Core Europe' (Kerneuropa), in their 1994 report Reflections on Europe. In this they advocated the construction of a 'Core Europe', consisting of a small group of EU member states (France, Germany, and the Benelux) that would speed up integration among themselves in order to constitute an avant garde within the Union.

This leads us to ask some questions. Are we witnessing the advent of such a 'Core Europe'? If so, will the US try to hamper such a development by a policy of divide and rule? And could this, eventually, lead to a re-emergence of old fault lines in Europe in which Russia will help the US (and vice versa) to contain an emerging 'central' European power?

As to the first question: the new French-German cooperation is quite certain to be further strengthened in the near future. It is interesting that the Benelux countries, the natural candidates to adhere at a 'Core Europe' did not sign the declaration of the eight (but, maybe, they were simply not asked). After the Convention, and, a forterori, after Enlargement, we shall see important new French-German initiatives to form a European avant garde group.

As to the second question: the US will try to contain the emergence of a European rival with the help of the pro-Atlantic EU member states, including the candidate EU member states and new NATO members in Central and Eastern Europe. Its new partnership with Russia will provide the US with a second 'containment front'. Russia might become a cordon sanitaire in a US containment policy of 'Core Europe'. Old alliances and fault lines might, therefore, reappear, including the re-emergence of a Russia-American alliance to contain a central European power (where the axis Germany-Italy would be replaced by the axis Germany-France).

A too pessimistic scenario? Maybe. But leaders on both sides of the Atlantic should be aware that a growing adversity between the US and an emerging Core Europe would be disastrous for everyone.