AS the European Union experiences growing pains, at least one powerful member is concerned that a reunified Germany may be getting too big for its breeches.
German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel was scheduled to travel to Paris yesterday to reassure French officials of Germany's desire for smooth relations after a diplomatic row rocked the EU's most important bilateral relationship.
Germany has taken the lead in pushing for EU enlargement, a process that is now stalled over British and Spanish objections to voting rules. A perception that Bonn is pursuing its own interests in the EU negotiations has revived talk in diplomatic circles about possible German domination of the EU, especially when its six-month presidency of the Union begins in July.
German officials have said that the proposed addition of Austria, Finland, Norway, and Sweden would achieve a desirable rebalancing of the EU, shifting the Union's epicenter away from less-wealthy Mediterranean nations toward the more prosperous countries of northern Europe. Such a shift could increase Germany's EU influence at the expense of France.
France's ambassador in Bonn, Francois Scheer, sparked the Franco-German dispute last week with published remarks expressing concern about Bonn's intentions in Europe. The French envoy said a reunified Germany needed to ``again and again'' affirm its commitment to Western Europe's political integration to assuage concern that Bonn's attention is slowly refocusing on Eastern Europe.
Mr. Scheer also criticized the supposed bullying behavior of Mr. Kinkel. Scheer claimed that Kinkel threatened to ``break the back'' of Spain if it continued to resist EU expansion. The German Foreign Ministry says Scheer misinterpreted the remark.
Kinkel inflamed the situation March 17 by calling in Scheer to the Foreign Ministry for an explanation of his comments. The action was roundly condemned by French and German leaders.
It did not help that the row came amid an ongoing wrangle over whether German leaders, including Chancellor Helmut Kohl, should be present at June ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landing in France's Normandy region.
Since the German Foreign Ministry's dressing down of Scheer, top politicians in Bonn and Paris have moved to smooth over the tension. Kinkel, for example, last weekend told a political meeting of his Free Democratic Party: ``No one is interested in Germany going it alone, least of all me.''
French President Francois Mitterrand also engaged in a weekend fence-mending discussion with Chancellor Kohl. Both leaders stressed the importance of close relations.
Although the worst of the diplomatic storm seems to have passed, the incident is providing new fuel for the ongoing debate in Bonn over Germany's role in the European order.
Since reunification in 1990, Germany has struggled with the delicate task of establishing a diplomatic identity in Europe that matches its economic prowess without reviving suspicion about German intentions of domination.
``The incident painfully opened our eyes to Germany's image abroad,'' wrote columnist Thomas Wittke in the General-Anzeiger daily. ``Even if some things are exaggerated, there is every reason to contemplate this issue and make new efforts.''
Some top German officials, while acknowledging that France has a legitimate concern, appeared mildly annoyed at the manner in which Paris aired its complaints.
``This is something that should be discussed privately - in the manner of close friends that we are - and not in public,'' says Gen. Klaus Naumann, inspector-general of the German Army.