After Minsk: Can The French-German Alliance Heal A Sick Europe?

The Ukraine ceasefire reached in Minsk represents a major diplomatic success for Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel, hopefully the first of many.

Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin and Francois Hollande in Moscow on Feb. 6.
Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin and Francois Hollande in Moscow on Feb. 6.
Pascal Riché


PARIS — As French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, looking a bit like co-conspirators, prepare to negotiate for peace in Ukraine with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Hollande whispers into Merkel's ear, "OK, Angela, I’ll play it firm, and you flexible, alright?"

As Putin waits for them at the other end of the room, Merkel answers, "François, let's maybe do the opposite!"

Excellent (In "Le Canard enchaîné")

— Cyril Petit (@cyrilpetit99) February 11, 2015

This cartoon by Mougey, published in the French weekly Le Canard Enchaîné, is amusing. But in ongoing negotiations that finally resulted in a Ukraine ceasefire earlier this week, the two leaders actually chose not to play the good cop/bad cop routine. Still, the duo's approach is working: They speak with a single voice. It's the first time in a long while that Europe has led a large-scale diplomatic operation from start to finish and got the kind of comforting result the two leaders reached with Putin in Minsk. We have to be careful, of course, but after these 16 difficult hours of talks, the specter of a total war in Europe seems much less threatening.

Tension is still high between Kiev and Moscow, and there are still major points to negotiate: the degree of autonomy Ukraine's eastern regions will be granted, the fate of the city of Debaltseve, and the restitution to Ukraine of its international borders. But what does seem decided is a ceasefire that will take effect at midnight on Feb. 15, together with the withdrawal of heavy weaponry and the release of prisoners.

American "bad cops" step aside

Meanwhile the real "bad cop" in the affair was becoming agitated, in a badly organized and vain way, across the Atlantic. President Barack Obama was beating the drums of war, talking about arming Ukraine, raising the prospect of cold war before an economically weak Russia. Europe took a different approach. Without lowering its guard regarding sanctions, it chose to focus on dialogue. Hollande and Merkel accepted the assumption that Russia isn't necessarily strategizing to annex Ukraine, but that it simply refuses to see it under NATO's thumb.

In early December, the situation seemed particularly dire, with errors made on all sides: lies and brutality from Russia, nationalistic tension on part of Ukraine, European diplomatic autism, bellicose American nonsense. Putin was pushed into a corner — exactly the kind of situation that can make such a man become dangerous. Tension in Donbass was only rising, with more and more civilians killed and hospitals bombed. It was high time to break what François Miterrand called this "logic of war." Only the French and German leaders managed to do that, by finally conducting a serious negotiation.

Putin, Merkel, Hollande and Poroshenko on Feb. 11 — Photo: Karl-Ludwig Poggemann

The French president first went to Moscow to meet Putin on Dec. 6, breaking the isolation in which the Russian leader had found himself since the crisis began. Then he went back with Merkel in February, engaging four-way discussions. As history has shown several times, Germany and France carry a lot of weight when they work together. In their case, 1+1 equals much more than 2.

Another cartoon published in Le Canard Enchaîné this week, signed by Pétillon, depicts the Hollande-Merkel duo in Moscow walking out of the room and saying, "Why don't we go and see the Greeks while we're at it?"

It's funny, but it's actually not such a bad idea. France and Germany know they can't let Greece slide towards chaos, toward a nationalistic withdrawal, or fall into Russia's arms. After a long breakdown, the French-German alliance is back, and that's a good thing. May they now work resolutely for the European people, starting with the most afflicted.

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A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A child in Galician countryside

Laure Gautherin

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.

Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021

La Voz de Galicia

Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?

The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.

The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.

The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."

The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."

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