Accessibility links

France/Germany: Paris And Berlin Celebrate 40 Years Of Cooperation Treaty With New Warmth

  • Joel Blocker

Four decades after President Charles de Gaulle and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer signed the Franco-German Cooperation Treaty in Paris's Elysee Palace on 22 January 1963, the two countries will celebrate the event -- a landmark in European unification -- with ceremonies and meetings in Paris and Versailles today and in Berlin tomorrow. More adversaries than allies in recent years, France and Germany now seem once more to be acting in unison.

Paris, 22 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The document now known simply as the Elysee Treaty put a formal end to almost a century of conflict between France and Germany, including three bloody wars (1870-71, World Wars I and II).

Together with the six-nation Treaty of Rome in 1956 -- signed by Italy and the three Benelux nations, as well as France and Germany -- the Elysee Treaty was a cornerstone of postwar Western European unification.

In the 1970s and '80s, Franco-German amity and cooperation grew stronger, with the two countries acting together as the so-called bilateral "motor" of European unity. In the '70s, warm personal ties between centrist President Valery Giscard d'Estaing and Chancellor Helmut Schmidt -- both economic specialists-- intensified bilateral relations and made possible the European Union's later adoption of monetary union.

In the '80s, Socialist President Francois Mitterrand and Christian Democratic Chancellor Helmut Kohl were able to maintain a similar degree of personal amity. It was symbolized by the now-classic 1994 photograph of the two leaders holding hands during a solemn visit to Verdun, where tens of thousands of German and French soldiers perished in World War I.

But with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the unification of Germany a year later, the old Germanaphobe instincts of the French, as well as a long-suppressed German desire to act with greater autonomy, both welled up again. Difficult personal relations between conservative French President Jacques Chirac and Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder also played a role in cooling bilateral relations.

Many Franco-German affairs analysts now consider the 1990s to be the worst decade in the 40 years since the signing of the Elysee Treaty. Our correspondent spoke with one of them: Francois Heisbourg, director of the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research, who sees two phases in the deterioration of bilateral relations.

"From the fall of the Berlin wall onwards, the relationship deteriorated by stages, with two basic, major episodes in the deterioration. One was the strong Franco-German disagreement on defense issues when the French entered into a period of very substantial transformation of their defense forces. Back in '96, the Germans were unhappy about that because of the manner in which the consultations had taken place, but more substantively because the French reforms put the Germans in an awkward situation since they were not reforming their [own] forces," Heisbourg said.

Heisbourg continues: "The second stage, which was broader in nature, was in the year 2000 in the run-up to the [European Union's] Nice Treaty negotiations, in which the French and the Germans -- including at the highest levels -- were essentially in disagreement. But it was also precisely because of that episode, which painfully highlighted the limited influence of France or Germany when operating in isolation in European affairs, which has helped since then to bring the Franco-German couple together again. Political changes in France [last year] have also helped, since we are no longer in a situation with a president of one political color and a prime minister of another political view."

The analyst points to another decisive factor in the recent reconciliation of the French and Germans -- their agreement in October 2002 to continue the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, or CAP, effectively until 2013, but with reduced German contributions. Over the years, French farmers have benefited the most from the CAP, while Germany has been the biggest net contributor.

"The compromise on the Common Agricultural Policy in October was an absolutely crucial condition for anything else happening. This is a key issue, quite traditionally, for the French, and it is obviously a major issue for the Germans, since they have to do a lot of the paying for the Common Agricultural Policy. Once that agreement took place, everything else became possible. Hence, indeed, since then, the tight coordination of the French and Germans in the work of the European Convention, which is preparing the constitutional treaty of the enlarged European Union. And that covers defense, that covers justice, that covers home affairs. This coming together is actually quite spectacular.... This was also translated by the French and German governments' participation in the convention, with both the French and German foreign ministers being formally members of the convention. That had not been the case prior to the October compromise," Heisbourg said.

Our correspondent asked Heisbourg about what are widely considered to be the cool personal relations between Chirac and Schroeder. "Personal relations continue to be very important. It is true that with Chirac and Schroeder, you really have a generational change. Schroeder, in particular, is not someone whose political career was placed under the sign of European affairs -- unlike as with Mitterrand and Kohl. Schroeder is not what you would call a 'gut European.' He is European, as it were, at the level of the brain. So it is a less passionate relationship, a less emotional relationship, than had been the case between Giscard and Schmidt or Mitterrand and Kohl -- and before either of those, de Gaulle and Adenauer. This is what I would call 'post-modern' Franco-German relations," he said.

Heisbourg concludes: "The important thing, of course, is that they (Paris and Berlin) actually operate under the assumption that nothing serious can happen in Europe unless France and Germany have hammered together a compromise with each other.... And my suspicion is that the European Convention will indeed revolve now, pretty much in terms of its end product, around the [recent] Franco-German proposal on having a stable presidency for the European Council and a politically responsible presidency for the European Commission."

As symbols of their newfound harmony, Chirac and Schroeder have scheduled a spectacular celebration for the Elysee Treaty's 40th birthday. This afternoon, in an unprecedented event, some 1,200 French and German parliamentarians will listen to speeches by Chirac and Schroeder in the Palace of Versailles in Paris.

The French National Assembly and the Bundestag will hold a joint session in Paris, while the French Senate will host a high-level delegation of German regional leaders.

A series of new measures to enhance cooperation between the two nations is due to be announced. Earlier this week, in interviews with Germany's "Die Welt" and France's "Le Figaro," Chirac revealed one of the new measures: a secretariat for Franco-German cooperation that will be installed in each government in order, he said, "to assure a better coordination of policies."

Tomorrow in Berlin, the Foreign Relations committees of the two parliaments will meet together, while Chirac and Schroeder will answer questions from some 500 high school students at the German chancellery.

XS
SM
MD
LG