A Crumbling Marriage
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has fractured the Franco-German model that has been at the heart of Europe since WWII
One of the consequences of Putin’s mindless invasion of Ukraine has been to shatter the post-war “gentlemen’s agreement” that has in many ways shaped Europe since the 1950s. In the post-war period, France was suffering from deep internal schisms resulting from a profound lack of agreement regarding what sort of country it wanted to be. Germany, meanwhile, was split in two. East Germany lay under the dead hand of the Soviet Empire and was becoming ever-more repressive and bleak, while West Germany was rebuilding with the help of the Marshall Plan and trying to determine what sort of country it wanted to be. As the nations with the largest populations in Western Europe, it was inevitable that the decisions made in Bonn and in Paris would shape the rest of free Europe for better or worse.
The outcome, which emerged slowly between 1945 and 1957, was that instead of the old model of reparations — which had indirectly led to WWII — a more subtle agreement would be implemented. As Germany re-industrialized and grew rich, it would subsidize France which wanted to cling to a more rural-oriented way of life. Germans would work hard and retire late, while the French would enjoy the continual transfer of funds from Germany so as to work in a more leisurely manner and retire early with plenty of benefits. Although what would ultimately become the European Union began as a coal and steel confederation intended to remove one of Hitler’s pretexts for starting WWII, even from the very beginning the model was clear. And as a more expansive vision of European unity took shape, at its heart was the key mechanism for redistributing German wealth to France: the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). This provided the pretext (food security) for enormous annual transfers of German taxpayers’ money into French pockets.
For decades, German funds permitted France to pretend it was an important European power. Germany money paid for France’s independent nuclear deterrent, the force du frappe, which although largely incapable of striking targets in the Soviet Union was more than capable of turning large parts of Germany into a nuclear wasteland. West Germany, meanwhile, followed a…