Indeed, France recognizes that the nature of the threat Europe’s nations now face is broader than just Islamic terrorism. From Greece at the outset to Portugal now, “German austerity” has become the all-but-irreconcilable difference pitting nationalists on the right and left against continental elites obliged to follow in Angela Merkel’s footsteps. “What we are seeing,” thundered UKIP chief Nigel Farage late last month, “is an increasingly authoritarian European Union that crushes democratic rights and then actually crows about it. Every single time there is a crisis, it is national democracy that loses.”
But the EU’s British critics are marginal, taking offshore potshots from the institution’s sidelines. A turn in France toward popular force, and against bankers’ restraint, however, would be a decisive blow to Merkel’s reign in Europe. No other nation in Europe is consequential enough to have anchored the EU as an equal partner with Germany, and no other can hold its lesser members together with an alternate worldview as firmly established as Germany’s own.
The thrust of public opinion in France — to the chagrin of socialists there and everywhere — has turned the corner against Merkelism on more than just matters financial. It has become impossible to ignore the abject misfortune of the 6,000 Syrian refugees at the tear-gassed slum camp in Calais known as the “New Jungle.” The French public is not eager to host any more migrants fleeing from war — and the feeling is apparently mutual. When Hollande set out in September to share the moral burden that Merkel had felt in opening German borders, less than two-thirds of one thousand invitees agreed to cross the Rhine.