Harold James: France and Frankfurt

Roundup: Historians' Take

Harold James is professor of History and International Affairs at Princeton University and professor of History at the European University Institute, Florence. He is the author of The Creation and Destruction of Value: The Globalization Cycle.

PRINCETON -- Over the past two years, financial markets have turned the spotlight on a succession of countries -- Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and Italy -- turning each into the epicenter of a seemingly perpetual European financial earthquake. But politicians always recognized that the heart of the European project was the relationship between France and Germany. Is that relationship now in jeopardy?

There is a falling-domino argument that suggests that the crises on Europe’s periphery will have a knock-on effect on the Franco-German core. France, in the aftermath of a property and asset price bubble, is vulnerable to some of the same combination of banking and public finance problems. Indeed, now France’s presidential election has politicized the link between peripheral dominos and Europe’s French heart.

In his final campaign rally before the first round of the presidential election, Nicolas Sarkozy stood in front of a banner proclaiming “la France forte,” or strong France. For much of his audience, Sarkozy’s head obscured the “e” in France, so that the slogan looked more like “franc fort,” or strong French franc -- which sounds like nothing if not “Frankfurt,” the German financial center that is the seat of the European Central Bank....

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