France and Germany cozy up, but why is anybody's guess

French-German relations have warmed up with the regular summit between French President Francois Mitterrand and West GermanChancellor Helmut Schmidt in Paris Feb. 24 and 25. There everyone agrees.

But what interpretation to put on this newfound bonhomie is a ''Rashomon'' conundrum. One might even say it's an especially highly developed form of ''Rashomon'' conundrum, since in the famous movie there were only as many versions of the event as there were participants, while in French-German relations there seem to be twice as many (at least) interpretations as there are protagonists.

The most distinctive versions might be dubbed the French government's, the West German government's, the British government's and Die Welt's. And that still leaves out the West German Social Democrats' left-wing (which basically sees long-time socialist theoretician Mitterrand as betraying the socialist brotherhood by championing new NATO missiles in Europe).

But first, to the French government gloss.

In this interpretation Paris has generously moved toward Bonn in supporting the importance of preserving East-West detente even while standing up to the Soviet Union over Poland's martial law. Hence -- despite the eloquent initial French condemnation of Moscow for the Polish repression that so pleased Washington -- the French signed onto the $10 billion Soviet-West European pipeline deal after the Polish declaration of martial law.

This helped remove from West Germany some of the heat of American wrath over West German companies' contracts for the pipeline (signed before martial law).

With this gallant step (in the view from Paris) pragmatic France may also help to save Schmidt from his own Social Democratic Party's leftist, neutralist, unilateralist disarmers who are so shockingly naive about the Soviet Union.

The West Germans, by contrast, think the French signing of contracts for the controversial Soviet pipeline after Polish martial law -- a move the West Germans could never have made without drawing bitter American charges of appeasement -- had nothing whatsoever to do with helping West Germany. It was just another case of the French making rhetorical gestures that pleased the Americans (as in the case of the Moscow Olympics boycott after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan), then acting contrary to their words.

Nonetheless, the latter-day French support for the prolongation of detente is welcome in Bonn, and the French Socialists' support for the mid-80s deployment of NATO nuclear missiles, barring any US-Soviet arms control agreement, is welcome to Schmidt.

In more general terms, a West Germany that can still awaken foreigners' suspicion left over from the Hitler period still has to seek French legitimacy and joint leadership. and it is here that the British would charge the French with using this necessity as moral blackmail of the Germans against Britain.

In addition, the West Germans are getting from their French connection a common European critique of America's high interest rates, fluctuating dollar, and perhaps even the high deficit.

Die Welt, West Germany's leading conservative daily, sarcastically interpreted the Schmidt-Mitterrand cordiality as conforming to Schmidt's dream of a ''more independent, more self-willed, and in any case, purer Europe'' to confront America.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to France and Germany cozy up, but why is anybody's guess
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today