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Catfish and Cod
Monday, July 14, 2003
Portents of the New Holy Roman Empire.
(Link path: Boston Globe/AP)

What does it say when a German general leads the Bastille Day parade?

It means French nationalism is no longer exactly French nationalism.

In a gesture of European unity, a German general headed France's Bastille Day military parade Monday for the first time...Bastille Day, the equivalent of July 4 in the United States, commemorates the storming of Paris' Bastille prison by angry crowds in 1789, sparking the French Revolution that rid France of its monarchy...

Gen. Holger Kammerhoff opened the march by leading 120 troops from the five-nation Eurocorps down the famed avenue to the Place de la Concorde, underscoring the close ties between France and Germany and the goal of closer European unity. Germany fought two wars with France in the last century. The Eurocorps, based in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, was created a decade ago and includes 70,000 soldiers who will likely form the core of any future joint European army...

Recognize the importance of symbolism here. The effort to create European unity is now of equal importance with French nationalism and history. Soon, I suspect, it will surpass it. Until twenty years ago, the idea of a German general leading French troops down the Champs Elysees would have been deeply abhorrent. Now, no one bats an eye.

In a wide-ranging television interview Monday, Chirac vowed to stick to plans to increase military spending in the coming years, saying "the threats to world security reinforce the choice France has made."

What choice is that, Chirac? The choice to re-arm, or the choice to oppose the United States?

The government has approved a budget for this year that raises defense spending by about $980 million. France, along with Britain, has one of the most powerful armies in Europe.

Living as I do in a country with military spending of over four hundred times that figure, allow me to be suitably unimpressed.

Chirac also defended his government's political and economic reforms that have brought thousands of angry workers, artists and others into the streets, causing massive disruption. "In a situation such as we are witnessing, the only solution is to adapt" to the changing world, Chirac said.

The government is pressing ahead with plans to overhaul France's costly retirement system and has also proposed cutting special unemployment benefits given to artists and technicians -- prompting the cancellation of several major summer arts festivals.

Now that really is revolutionary. Since the uprisings of '68, France and like-minded European powers have been in steady pursuit of an ever-larger and ever-more-generous welfare state. Now Chirac is reversing the trend for -- what? A military buildup? And while conspiring to unify the French army with the German, Belgian, and other armies, too. Remember, France and Germany both opposed intervention in Iraq. France preferred to use the French Foreign Legion to intervene in former colonies. Germany considers herself pacifist and won't fight at all. If the pro-EU states don't want to go picking fights, what precisely is Chirac beefing up European strength for?