Diminished France loses influence in Europe
PARIS (Reuters) - It's not a good sign when the leader of a G7 nation feels the need to state his country still matters.
That is precisely what French President Francois Hollande did at a meeting of European Union leaders last month after his Socialist party's humiliating defeat by the hard right National Front in European Parliament elections.
"France is not weakened ... It's a great country. It's the country that matters in Europe together with Germany," Hollande, the most unpopular French leader since opinion polling began, told reporters.
An array of diplomats and officials involved in EU policymaking told Reuters France's influence, sapped by its persistent economic problems, has been hit further by the election, in which the Socialists came a distant third behind Marine Le Pen's far-right and the opposition conservatives.
"Hollande is a devalued currency," a former European affairs minister from one member state said. "If we need something, we go to the Germans. Before, we used to go to the French as a way of bringing the Germans around. Now France is mostly absent."
Paris was at the forefront of European integration from the creation of the European coal and steel community in the early 1950s to the establishment of a single currency in the 1990s as an ally and counterweight to Berlin.
But its clout has diminished in the last decade due to the bloc's eastward enlargement, the French rejection of a proposed EU constitution in a 2005 referendum and the country's economic stagnation and loss of competitiveness compared to Germany.
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