While Frenchmen declare that they will hold on until Germany comes to her senses and Germany refuses to oblige, the English government, in daily Cabinet meetings, is wrestling with the problem which has disturbed Europe since the war Franco-German relations involving particularly the questions of security and reparations. During 1921 and 1922 England suffered a severe trade depression brought on largely by the burden of taxation. With the coming of 1923 and the revival of hope for prosperity, the European market was further disturbed by the French invasion of the Ruhr. Economically England needs European recovery and it is Mr. Baldwin's great ambition to further this recovery by solving the reparations problem. He has not chosen an easy task; despite a score of meetings and conferences intended to solve the same problem. Mr. Lloyd-George succeeded only in solving the question of when he would retire from the premiership, while Mr. Bonar Law's "business proposals" at Paris received but three day's consideration.
Diplomats and strategists do not tire of assuring us that the war, which was begun on the Marne and the Somme, in the Argonne and at Verdun, is being fought out on the Ruhr and the Weser, in Essen and Geisenkirchen. The situation is not unlike that in early 1917, except that now it is England that is proposing the formula of "peace without victory".
England seems eager to negotiate on the basis of the latest German note which proposes an impartial commission to fix reparations and guarantees; Italy and Belgium are not satisfied with the present situation. But France, if we may believe the French press, raises three objections: first, that passive resistance must cease, second, that there shall be no examination by outsiders of Germany's capacity to pay, and finally, that any abatement of France's claim on Germany must be met by a corresponding abatement of the English and American claims on France. If Mr. Baldwin can unravel this tangle or can cut this Gordian knot, he will rank as the greatest statesman--or the greatest diplomat--of the twentieth century.
It is hard to say where the future will lead. France and England may succeed in finding some formula which will secure a sensible solution of the reparations snarl while saving the faces of Poincare and Cuno. Or France may elect to break up the remnants of the Entente and pursue what she feels is the only possible policy in the Ruhr. It is even within the realm of possibility that in the end France and Germany should come into closer union than ever before in an industrial entente based on coal and iron.
But some things are reasonably certain. We are approaching a crisis in the politics of Europe--probably the greatest crisis since 1919. Also amid the welter of conflicting opinions and actions it is becoming more and more clear that security is at least as important a factor in the French attitude as is reparations. Any successful settlement must provide security for France.