French President Nicolas Sarkozy heads a party called the Union for a Popular Majority. The party is descended from the Gaullist party founded by supporters of General Charles de Gaulle, the founder of the French 5th Republic. Charles de Gaulle wanted on the one hand to modernize France but on the other hand he sought to revive French grandeur as an independent nation state and free it from the tutelage of the "Anglo-Saxons" - primarily the Americans.
De Gaulle viewed the Common Market (officially named the European Economic Community the forerunner of today's European Union) as a Europe des patries or a Europe of nation states. If the Common Market commission a la Walter Hallstein attempted to take powers away to Brussels, De Gaulle was quick to put him in his place. For him the community served as a tool to yoke German economic muscle to French diplomatic ambitions. As long as the Federal Republic of Germany was still attempting to acquire legitimacy, this game worked to the advantage of France.
Germany has been reunited for two decades and it no longer needs France to provide legitimacy. Now, the inherent contradiction between French nationalism and the direction of the European Union is becoming transparent.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is seeking a federal Europe in return for Germany assuming the major burden in a debt crisis and allowing the European Central Bank to become the lender of last resort. This means a harmonization of budgets on the federal level and depriving economically delinquent states of their fiscal sovereignty. This was the last thing that De Gaulle had in mind and his distant successor Sarkozy would like to solve the economic mess via intergovernmental arrangements rather than by superseding governments as Angela Merkel would have it.
Now the French president finds himself assailed from both the right and the left for knuckling under to the Germans. The French National Front basically would like to exit the EU and believes that the EU has undermined the French economy.
Sarkozy's main opponent in the election --the Socialist candidate François Hollande who ironically was attending a Congress of the German SPD – the German social Democratic Party - last week, claimed that Franco-German friendship presupposed a balance and respectful relationship. Currently Germany was strong while France was weak "for it has been ill-led for 5 years [under Sarkozy]". As a result argued Hollande: “It is Mrs. Merkel who decides and Mr. Sarkozy who follows.”
Charles DeGaulle was able to square the circle between European integration and French nationalism. Nicolas Sarkozy may be in for a run around.