With 10 new countries soon joining the EU, and with most of the Eastern European countries being pro-US, France is nervous that it will lose its standing and influence in Europe with the EU being "tilted" toward the US. For this reason, France is trying to partner with Germany to build a French-German axis that could filibuster the EU (and the UN) if need be.
Nervous at the prospect of losing influence when 10 newcomers join the European Union next year, France is seeking to form a partnership with Germany that would enhance both countries' influence and help hold the union together.
"If a Europe of 25 [countries] fails, what's left for France? A Franco-German rapprochement," Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin was quoted as saying in the French newspaper Le Monde, which last week reported that France and Germany are studying a "project of unity."
With Central and Eastern European countries rallying behind the United States — and countries such as Poland committing troops to Iraq — Paris and Berlin have concluded that the enlarged EU will not be without divisions.
France, in particular, fears that the Eastern European countries could eventually tilt the EU toward the United States and thus away from France, the traditional powerhouse in Europe. It is hardly surprising then that French President Jacques Chirac would seek to correct the balance by cozying up to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
Le Monde said that French Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy hopes to advance the Franco-German allianceby having the two countries combine their armies and diplomatic services and share France's seat on the U.N. Security Council.
Basically, this is more of the typical anti-American rhetoric and action coming out of France. Somehow France feels so threatened by the US that they are willing to go to great, great lengths to appear as a "counter-balance" to the US. Think about it...France feels so threatened by the US that they are willing to merge their political and military capital with Germany's. All this because the introduction of 10 new countries into the EU "might" give the EU a more pro-America "tilt."
Meanwhile, and not unrelated, the French feel as though their "grandeur" is in a steep decline. And for good reason:
These days, it isn't Americans bad-mouthing France over Iraq, but France's own Cassandras who are churning out best sellers suggesting the country is in economic and political decline.
They point to a host of warning signs: high deficits, intractable unemployment, stunted economic growth, diplomatic setbacks.
They worry about France's increasingly alienated Muslim minority and the resurgence of attacks on its Jewish minority. Even the killer heat wave over the summer has fed the feeling of malaise.
Navel-gazing is never out of vogue in France, and Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has dismissed the latest bout as intellectual rabble-rousing. President Jacques Chirac, asked about it on television, took the opportunity to deliver a short pep talk to the nation.
"I'm surprised to see how in moments of a little difficulty, this movement comes back in such a powerful way," Mr. Chirac said. "We can overcome all difficulties."
Yet to glance in bookstores these days and see titles referring variously to French arrogance, decline or disarray, one might think no one has a good word to say about la belle France.
The biggest best seller is "La France Qui Tombe" ("France is Falling"), a withering critique by lawyer and economist Nicolas Baverez.
In his book, subtitled "A Clinical Report of French Decline," Mr. Baverez argues the French work ethic has weakened, the best scientific and entrepreneurial minds are fleeing the country, the French own too few home computers and they are too apt to go on strike at the first whiff of belt-tightening.
Gripped by bureaucratic rigidity, France has failed to liberalize its economy and is becoming "an industrial and entrepreneurial desert," Mr. Baverez writes. He cites figures showing that new business creation has fallen 2 percent a year since the late '80s, and that last year the country of 60 million people had more bankruptcies than the United States.
The discontent expressed by Mr. Baverez is indeed in large part about the economy. The troubles are social, too.
The crisis of confidence heightened in August when, according to the government, nearly 15,000 people died in a heat wave. Many blamed government ineptitude for the failure of health services to cope.
The growth of a largely alienated Muslim minority, and the stunning gains of Jean-Marie Le Pen's extreme nationalist, anti-immigrant party in last year's presidential election further dampened the mood.
France, 90 percent Roman Catholic, has Western Europe's largest Muslim and Jewish minorities and has problems with both. It is accused of failing to come to terms with its World War II government's collaboration with the Nazis, and of denying the Muslim population of 5 million its rightful place in French society.
Several best sellers track the rise of Islamic militancy in France, while Alain Finkielkraut, a leading French Jewish scholar, explores the fears of France's 600,000 Jews who feel besieged by an upsurge in anti-Semitic violence and intellectual hostility.
In a book subtitled "Reflections on the Coming Anti-Semitism," he writes: "Jews have a heavy heart and, for the first time since the war, they are afraid."
Perhaps this is why France feels the need to "flex its muscles", as meager as they may be?