Walter Russell Mead’s latest Wall Street Journal column warms the cockles of my cold, old American heart. In it he points out that French President Emmanuel Macron’s posturing about nationalism is a pile of crapola and just about everything he or France more generally does is motivated, not be high-minded statesmanship, but by narrow nationalism:
But Mr. Macron’s posturing aside, the French are nationalist to the core. Ask the European parliamentarians and their staffers who must make the expensive, time-consuming, carbon-emitting trip from Brussels to Strasbourg once a month to maintain the absurd fiction that French Strasbourg is the home of the European Parliament. Ask any European negotiator who has tried to prune back the Common Agricultural Policy, a giant boondoggle under which France is the largest recipient of funds. Ask any Italian diplomat about French policies in Libya. Ask any American negotiator about France’s approach to trade. Ask any German diplomat who has had a few drinks.
French diplomacy under President Macron is as nationalist as ever. His core objective is to shift EU economic policy in France’s favor. Mr. Macron hoped introducing market-based reforms in France would persuade Germany to loosen the EU purse strings and give Paris more fiscal running room. Then, perhaps, the resulting boost to the French economy would reconcile public opinion to Mr. Macron’s reforms. But he has not made much progress, in part because the German government is too weak to take large political risks. Now he is facing voters’ wrath.
I suspect that is news to most Americans but it isn’t news to me. 23 years ago I observed that I didn’t see how the Common Agricultural Policy would survive with the admission of Romania to the EU and have since repeated it here. The answer is that France has been waging a self-serving delaying action to ensure that Poles and Romanians continue to subsidize French farmers. And Germany?
How can we tell that Germans are nationalistic? By what they do and don’t do. After World War II, Germany took in between 12 million and 14 million German refugees expelled from Poland, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. There was grumbling, but by and large the newcomers found places to live and settled down. The transition for the one million non-German refugees who came to the country in 2015, however, has been much less smooth. The political reaction continues to wound Angela Merkel’s government and the political establishment.
Similarly, Germans have paid roughly €2 trillion to lift East Germany in the years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, but they fight any suggestion that they should show that kind of solidarity to Italy or Greece. The Federal Republic of Germany is a “transfer union” in which rich areas subsidize poor ones on a very large scale. Germans do not want the EU to work that way. This difference in attitude exemplifies how nationalism works: You do things for “your own” people that you would never do for others.
The French and Germans aren’t alarmed at nationalism. They’re alarmed at American nationalism because for the last several decades they’ve been able to enlist the U. S. to pursue their national interests while neglecting its own in the interests of internationalism.
It reminds me of the complaints about trade war between the U. S. and China. Where were the complaints about trade war when the Chinese began waging a trade war against us 30 years ago? The complaints aren’t about free trade or trade war. They’re about the U. S. looking after its own interests.