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Rede des Koordinators für die Transatlantische Zusammenarbeit, Harald Leibrecht, anlässlich des Empfangs und der Ausstellungseröffnung zu 50 Jahre Elysee Vertrag an der University of Alberta

10.04.2013 - Rede

Bienvenue, Herzlich Willkommen and Welcome. I am delighted to be here today to celebrate 50 years of Franco-German Friendship with all of you. As Coordinator for Transatlantic Cooperation I am obviously used to speak about the strong and vivid partnership between Canadians and Germans or between Americans and Germans.

But today we want to talk about France and Germany. I am nevertheless convinced that the transatlantic bond can profit from the Franco-German example

January 22, 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Elysée-Treaty. It was this treaty that laid the political, legal and symbolic foundation for the extraordinary partnership France and Germany enjoy today.

France and Germany entered into this partnership at a time when our peoples only 20 years earlier had suffered through two horrible wars. These wars had left Europe in ruins and had slashed most common bonds between its states, especially between Germany and France. Yet, the post-war leaders Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer shared a vision of a unified and peaceful Europe. A Europe built on the idea of reconciling the French and the German people when they were perhaps most divided. It was this powerful vision that led the way towards the close and intimate friendship our two countries share today. At the base of this friendship lie core values that our countries and our peoples share: freedom, tolerance, assistance to the weakest and cultural diversity. They permit us to reach compromises even on difficult issues - like the current debt crisis for example - and make us even stronger partners.

France and Germany are close and powerful allies on every level imaginable:

Our heads of state and our national cabinets meet regularly several times a year to hold bilateral consultations and to reach compromises that are essential to our bilateral relations but also to progress within the EU.

France and Germany are the EU’s largest economies and bear a special responsibility to cooperate in order to advance the European project and to secure a stable and productive political environment.

This cooperation we share continues to be most fruitful. In 2010, the Franco-German Council of Ministers adopted the Agenda 2020, proposing more than 80 concrete political projects, many of which have already been implemented.

It is not only our governments, however, that are closely intertwined. At the core of the Franco-German friendship is the belief that only by promoting curiosity for our neighbor and by learning from each other can we improve our relations and build a better future for our children. That is why French and German civil societies enjoy a multitude of strong ties that connect our peoples.

At the forefront of this effort are our youth programs. It is our young generation that holds the key to a future of peace and harmony in Europe. By introducing our children to our neighbor’s culture at a young age, we instill in them a profound sense of tolerance and create long-lasting trust as well as confidence in the importance of intercultural exchange. To ensure the achievement of this goal, the Franco-German Youth Office, for example, has in the 50 years of its existence enabled more than eight million youths to travel to their neighboring country to gather first-hand experience in transcending borders and building bridges between cultures. I am glad that we have also established a youth mobility program with Canada in 2006.

What is more, the 2,200 towns and cities in France and Germany that have entered into partnership agreements with their counterparts abroad greatly contribute to the understanding we have of each other by organizing youth and cultural exchanges, language holidays etc. and by keeping the Franco-German partnership alive in everyday life. As for the German-Canadian Partnership, there are also very fruitful cooperations between Ontario and Baden Württemberg or Bavaria and Quebec for example.

Furthermore, French and German actors have worked together and continue to do so on projects such as a common history textbook, a Franco-German Brigade and a bi-national television channel – Arte.

Finally, the Institut Français, the Goethe-Institut as well as the large number of bilingual schools and kindergartens we find today in both countries advance our friendship. In the long term they enable us to understand one another without the need for an interpreter. This ability helps us succeed in the international job market, for France and Germany respectively are each other’s most important trading partners. It also allows us to immerse ourselves in our respective neighbor’s everyday life, thereby creating mutual trust and eliminating prejudice.

Recent polls in France and Germany demonstrate that our countries’ images in the respective partner country continue to be highly positive and that Frenchmen and Germans alike immensely value our good bilateral relations. More than 85% of our fellow citizens have a high or very high opinion of the neighboring country. I am particularly happy that this also holds true for our young generation.

The close friendship our countries enjoy today, however, does not come automatically. We must constantly work to keep it alive and to instill in following generations a curiosity in our neighbor’s culture and a thirst for intercultural exchange. There remain many cultural and political differences between France and Germany that we cannot deny and must not forget. Yet, this is by no means a reason to doubt the potential of Franco-German integration. It merely goes to show that we are individual countries with individual identities that make us interesting and that are worth protecting. However, we need to ensure at all times that we competently and tolerantly address these differences and overcome any gaps that need bridging.

We also need to counter any renewed nationalist tendencies that attempt to achieve a retreat of politics to the national domain and aim at reestablishing anachronistic measures of isolation. Such endeavors are perilous and while they may be tempting as they seem to provide easy answers to current problems, we must not forget that the open-minded and multicultural lifestyle we enjoy today depends on opening towards our European neighbors. Only together are we strong enough to succeed in our globalized world.

One of the challenges France and Germany – and indeed all of Europe – face today is overcoming the debt and financial crises that are currently troubling our economies. This task we can only master together and our countries share a special responsibility to make use of their unique relationship to inspire constructive debate on Europe’s future. We need to look ahead in unison and boldly address these issues in concert with our other European partners.

Speaking here today as Coordinator of Transatlantic Cooperation, I would like to invite you to view the important experience France and Germany gained from their close friendship as glowing examples of the immense benefits that may be drawn from extensive political and cultural exchange between two countries. In today’s world, the influence of nation states is decreasing while the importance of international understanding and decision making is increasing as we speak. Therefore, we should strive to further our understanding of each other by promoting exchange between our civil societies in order to lay the foundations for a stable and prosperous future. France and Germany are currently using the experience gained from their friendship to further improve their partnership with Poland in the so called Weimar Triangle.

This partnership can serve as an impressive transatlantic example. It is my firm belief that strong ties between civil societies lie at the heart of every friendship. There may be political disagreement from time to time. But the strong friendship between our peoples, the cultural and scientific exchange as well as the economic interconnections unite our countries as close partners.

Our German-Canadian partnership is in great shape. Chancellor Merkel’s visit to Canada last summer was highly successful. We cooperate in many areas. Economically, we will grow even closer together, once the Canadian-European Trade Agreement comes into force and the German-Canadian Science and Innovation partnership is in full bloom. The Albert Helmholtz Initiative is just one of many excellent examples to prove this point.

As we are here at a great University that is home to many young and ambitious students and I have stressed the importance of involving young people in intercultural relations, let me conclude by quoting Charles de Gaulle from his famous speech to the German youth in Ludwigsburg in 1962.

"To you all I extend my congratulations! First of all, I congratulate you for being young. One only has to observe the fire in your eyes, listen to the force of your demonstrations, witness the personal passion of every one of you and the common upswing of your group to be convinced, that this enthusiasm has chosen you to master your life and the future."

These inspiring words are as true today as they were then. Let us all work to continue in his spirit and use this fire to bring our countries closer together.

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