Citizens will only accept the EU if it makes it possible for them to prosper. ~ Angela Merkel in 2016
France and Germany were ever the core of the European Union. To put it mildly, their history has been contentious.
Germany invaded France 3 times since 1870. France is skittish even in peace, not to mention nationalistically haughty.
The EU was France’s a way to bind Germany to it, and so amplify its own power. The French regarded any ceding of sovereignty as a way to reinforce, not undermine, their nation-state. France never aimed at a supranational government. They only wanted to empower themselves.
By contrast, to the Germans, the EU was an admirable ideal. Aghast at their Nazi paroxysm, Germany was eager to prove itself responsible within the community of nations.
The growing chasm of opinion between France and Germany about the European Union owes to economics. In 2002, the 2 countries enjoyed comparable prosperity. Then Germany began to reform itself. France did not. By 2017, Germans had 17% more purchasing power per person than the French. Labor costs in France rose faster than in Germany, undermining French competitiveness and deterring the creation of lasting employment.
The most devastating difference has been unemployment. In 2002, joblessness was a tad higher in Germany. By 2017, German unemployment was 6%, while France was stuck at 10%, with over 25% of French under 25 unable to find a job. (Cited are official government unemployment figures, which are always a gross understatement.)
The result is predictable. Whereas 69% of French people viewed the EU favorably in 2004, only 38% did in 2016. Meanwhile, the Germans have remained steadfast to the ideal of supranationality. 60% of Germans continue to see the EU positively.
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While the UK was contemplating its departure, EU leaders floundered for a way to give the European Union a fresh leash on life. All the well-worn ideas, such as greater integration of markets or the military, met resistance at the national level. The politics of nationalism keep supranationalism malnourished, feeding it only when idealism can be indulged.
The EU is vital for its member states in both economic and political terms since, as individual countries, their future would be bleak. Alone, EU member states would stand no chance of coping in a world in which economic dominance continues to shift to the East, especially with the US being on a declining long-term trajectory. ~ Sudanese-British economist Ali El-Agraa
The idea of one EU state, one vision, was an illusion. ~ Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, in 2016
There really was never any investment in building a shared sense of European identity. ~ Francis Fukuyama in 2017
The European Union is in an existential crisis. ~ Hungarian-American political activist George Soros in 2018