Last updated in March 2013
France is Germany’s closest and most important partner in Europe. With no other country does it coordinate all its policies more extensively or regularly. In recent decades, important milestones in relations were:
- the Treaty on Franco-German Cooperation of 22 January 1963 (Elysée Treaty)
- the historic handshake between President Mitterrand and Chancellor Kohl at the Verdun cemetery in 1984
- the adoption of a joint declaration by President Jacques Chirac and Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder at the Franco-German Summit in Paris to mark the 40th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty, providing for a host of initiatives designed to strengthen relations
- the first time a German Chancellor was invited to attend the celebrations on 26 June 2004 commemorating the 60th anniversary of the allied landing in Normandy
- Federal Chancellor Merkel’s participation in the celebrations marking the anniversary of the end of the First World War, held at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on 11 November 2009
- the ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty, held in Berlin on 22 January 2013, also coinciding with a joint Franco-German Ministerial Council meeting, the adoption of the Berlin Declaration by Federal Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande and a joint session of the German Bundestag and the French Assemblée nationale attended by both governments, President Hollande, Federal President Gauck, members of the German Bundesrat and representatives of the French Senate
Other outstanding institutions and cooperation projects enriching bilateral relations between Germany and France include:
- the Franco-German Youth Office (established in 1963 and offering programmes with some 8 million participants)
- the Franco-German University (at present encompassing 160 partner universities attended by some 4,700 students in 150 study programmes)
- the TV channel ARTE
- the Franco-German Renewable Energy Coordination Office (founded in 2006)
- EADS (Airbus)
- development of a shared history textbook for German and French schools
- the Franco-German Agenda 2020 (February 2010), under which 80 joint Franco-German cooperation projects are set to be implemented by 2020
- a cooperation-promoting civil society network of some 300 Franco-German associations, 22 regional partnerships and 2,200 town twinning arrangements, some 4,300 school partnerships and around 40 partnerships between German and French schools with bilingual sections
These have spawned unusually diverse and intensive forms of cooperation. Today, cooperation focuses on European policy and developing a joint stance on international security issues.
Franco-German cooperation goes hand in hand with the close integration of other European partners. It is constantly evident that even in a Europe with 27 member states, progress can only be achieved if Germany and France pull together (the Franco-German engine).
One particularly successful example is the close coordination of policy between Germany and France during the European debt crisis. Cooperation between Berlin and Paris has resulted in a basic framework of measures to stabilize the euro, which were subsequently adopted at European level: the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and the Fiscal Pact. Even after France’s change of government, both sides – Federal Chancellor Merkel and the new French President François Hollande (elected on 6 May 2012) – left no doubt about their determination to continue this form of close cooperation in the future, too.
On 22 September 2012, Federal Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande opened the Franco-German Year in Ludwigsburg, marking the 50th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty, which was signed on 22 January 1963. A website specially developed for this anniversary (elysee50.de or elysee50.fr) went online in September 2012. It offers a comprehensive overview of anniversary events, most of which are being organized by civil society or German and French cultural intermediaries.
The main ceremony was held in Berlin on 22 January 2013, with meeting between the two countries’ parliaments and governments. The Franco-German Year’s closing event is due to be held in Paris on 5 July 2013, marking the 50th anniversary of the Franco-German Youth Office.
The Franco-German Ministerial Council meeting that was held on 22 January 2013 as part of the celebrations was a full-blown session attended by 45 German and French government members. A wide range of topics were addressed at the meeting: youth; culture; growth; stability and social cohesion; energy and climate; agriculture; diplomacy, defence and security; development; European civic engagement; administrative cooperation and civil society (political dialogue); and cross-border cooperation involving the adoption of extensive political guidelines incorporating intergovernmental projects, including a Franco-German job centre. In addition, Federal Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande adopted the Berlin Declaration, whose provisions include the presentation of a joint Franco-German proposal regarding the further development of the economic and monetary union in May 2013 (to be put before the European Council in June) and the setting up of a Franco-German working group involving both trade unions and management to develop proposals for improving industrial competitiveness.
There is intensive cooperation between France’s National Assembly (Assemblée Nationale) and the German Bundestag as well as wide-ranging contacts between the French Senate and Germany’s upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat. In June 2011, the German-French Parliamentary Friendship Groups in the French Senate and the German Bundesrat celebrated 50 years of cooperation at the meeting in Paris.
Bilateral interparliamentary contacts include:
- joint sessions of the Foreign Affairs Committees of the Bundestag and the Assemblée Nationale and the European Affairs Committees of both countries’ upper and lower houses
- an annual parliamentarians’ colloquium Paris-Berlin
- a regular exchange of views between German and French political parties
- annual meetings of the two parliamentary speakers
- regular meetings of the Parliamentary Friendship Groups in the German Bundesrat and Bundestag and the French Senate and National Assembly
- an exchange programme for parliamentary assistants
- short visits by parliamentarians of both countries to observe the work of their counterparts
- an annually awarded parliamentary prize for an academic thesis on bilateral relations
- a joint meeting of the German Bundestag, the French National Assembly, the German Bundesrat and the French Senate, scheduled for 22 January 2013 in Berlin, as part of celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty
Cooperation between German federal states and French regions
Cooperation at the level of the Federal Government and the German Bundestag and Bundesrat is complemented by coordination and joint projects at regional level. Key issues here include promoting knowledge of the other country’s language and culture, increasing the mobility and networking of companies, universities and research institutions.
There is also very close cooperation between French and German border regions as part of Cross-Border Cooperation, particularly in the two cooperation regions on the Upper Rhine (trilateral) and in the quadri-national SaarLorLux Greater Region (quadrilateral) as well as in five Franco-German eurodistricts. The tri-national Upper Rhine Metropolitan Region, established on 10 December 2010, is the first cross-border metropolitan region and thus serves as a model within the European Union.
Cooperation on security and defence policy
Cooperation between Germany and France on security policy is very close. The joint Franco-German Brigade initially symbolized the two countries’ will to cooperate on military policy. Along with the Eurocorps, it now forms the basis for European armed forces as part of the European Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). For over 20 years now there has been mutual training of naval officers – and for the past seven years of army officers as well – at the schools, academies and universities of the German and French armed forces. Exchange officers do duty in many different units, making them an integral part of the other country’s armed forces. The Federal Armed Forces are thus making an important and substantial contribution to further developing Franco-German relations and at the same time setting an example in terms of a European Common Foreign and Security Policy.
Bilateral economic relations
Germany is France’s most important trading partner with bilateral trade worth some EUR 161 billion in 2012 (2011: EUR 156 billion), Germany recording a surplus of EUR 17,7 billion. The flow of investments in both directions remains constant at a high level.
The interest in bilateral exchange and cooperation is also evident from the large number of joint activities and networks in areas relevant to the economy. France was the Partner Country of AMBIENTE, the world’s largest consumer-goods fair, which was held in Frankfurt/Main from 15 to 19 February 2013.
In 2011, the number of overnight stays by German tourists in France rose to 82.1 million. In the same period, there were 3 million overnight stays by French tourists in Germany.
Franco-German cultural exchange is close and wide-ranging in all areas (theatre, music, visual arts, literature, film, museums). Berlin and Paris in particular attract numerous creative artists from the partner country.
The Franco-German Cultural Council (FGCC) was founded in 1988 with the aim of promoting cultural cooperation between the two countries and fostering a process of intercultural penetration. The FGCC generally meets twice a year, alternately in France and Germany.
Schools and universities in France and Germany are increasingly networking both bilaterally and at European level (mutual recognition of qualifications, binational examinations, partnerships, study programmes at the Franco-German University/Saarbrücken and the academic exchange Franco-German Forum/Strasbourg, government-level Franco-German Research Forums, etc.).
The Franco-German University (FGU) consists of a group of affiliated member universities from both France and Germany. It promotes relations and exchange between these universities with a view to establishing bi-national courses of study, PhD and research programmes. There are currently some 5,000 students registered under the umbrella of the FGU.
The Franco-German Youth Office remains the key player in youth exchange activities, with some 200,000 young people participating each year (a total of more than 8 million since 1963).
The Saarbrücken-based Franco-German Secretariat (DFS) promotes youth and adult exchange in the vocational training and further-education sectors, supporting partnerships between French and German vocational training institutions. So far, some 85,000 trainees, school students and adults have participated in the DFS exchange programme.
School cooperation is close at the Franco-German grammar schools. There are two grammar schools of this kind in Germany: in Saarbrücken and Freiburg. In France, the Lycée franco-allemand de Buc near Versailles recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. The two German bi-national schools in France (Saint Cloud near Paris and in Toulouse) are members of the partner school network with a special affiliation to Germany.
In addition, Germany and France have in recent years made considerable progress in school cooperation, including the bi-national school-leaving qualifications AbiBac and the Option Internationale du Baccalauréat (OIB). Since 1994, it has been possible to simultaneously obtain the Baccalauréat and the Abitur with the AbiBac examination at schools in France and Germany. Since this qualification is recognized in both countries, those obtaining it automatically qualify for university entrance as well as access to vocational training and the workforce both at home and in the partner country. The OIB is also a bi-national school-leaving qualification that can be obtained at the German sections of six schools in France.
An important prerequisite for mutual understanding is knowledge of the partner language. Initiatives like the DeutschMobile/FranceMobile in schools and the Internet language portal fplusd testify to the commitment to promoting both German and French. The Franco-German TV channel ARTE, which broadcasts in both languages, complements the language and cultural offerings in the media sector.
Another indispensable element in cultural relations is the civil-society network, which includes more than 300 Franco-German associations, 22 regional and 2,200 town twinning arrangements and 4,300 school partnerships. Initial contacts at this level were established back in 1945, immediately after the end of the war.