We demonstrate this every day in a wide range of areas and at many different levels – between our governments, between Germany’s federal states (Länder) and France’s regions and departments, and above all in the close exchange between towns, cities and municipalities, associations, schools and universities – in other words, between people. This close cooperation is also reflected by the growing number of joint foreign policy initiatives between the two countries.
Security policy cooperation between Germany and France is very close, too, and has intensified even further since Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine began in February 2022. In addition to other meetings, the Franco-German Defence and Security Council provides a specific forum for discussing current security policy and strategic issues – also with a view to implementing the Treaty of Aachen. It was last convened on 22 January 2023.
The two countries hold intergovernmental consultations on an annual basis. Most recently, Federal Chancellor Scholz welcomed the French Government to Hamburg for a Franco-German cabinet retreat on 9/10 October 2023. This new meeting format gave the members of the two governments an opportunity to informally discuss important issues affecting our future, such as artificial intelligence and societal cohesion.
The Élysée Treaty and the Treaty of Aachen – foundations of the Franco-German partnership
On 22 January 1963, the foundations for the reconciliation between the two countries and their bilateral cooperation were laid by an international treaty: the Élysée Treaty. The close cooperation between the two Governments and the establishment on 5 July 1963 of the Franco-German Youth Office for the promotion of youth exchange are important cornerstones of the Treaty that have stood the test of time. In 2019, with the signing of the Treaty of Aachen by then German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, the partnership was further deepened and intensified, focusing on new challenges such as climate action and the digital transformation, and placed at the service of Europe and the European Union.
A list of 15 priority projects was adopted when the Treaty of Aachen was signed, the majority of which have now been implemented. These include the Franco-German Citizens’ Fund, which has already supported more than 2000 projects for an active European civil society since its creation in April 2020. Another example is the Franco-German Cross-Border Cooperation Committee. This body aims to identify and remove obstacles to cross-border coexistence by involving key decision-makers – on both sides of the border and across all federal and administrative levels.
The Franco-German Forum for the Future collaborates with local and regional stakeholders on policy recommendations addressing issues such as the socio-ecological transformation or the municipal energy transition.
Creating new networks for the young generation
It is important to keep on renewing the dense network of Franco-German ties among the younger generations in particular. With this in mind, Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron launched the Franco-German young people’s network Generation Europe at the Franco-German Council of Ministers in 2023. The idea behind the network is for young people up to the age of 35 from a wide range of backgrounds to bring their personal strengths and experience to bear in the service of Franco-German cooperation. The first cohort is set to present its policy recommendations on 22 January 2024, as the second cohort begins its work.
Other socio-political initiatives as well as strategies to promote each other’s language also help to foster mutual understanding between France and Germany. Franco-German cooperation is not something that can be taken for granted, but something that is achieved and experienced every day anew.
Cross-border cooperation between Germany and France
The diversity and benefits of Franco-German cooperation are reflected in the everyday lives of people in the border regions. The interdependence of government bodies as well as of people and the economy continues to increase. Examples of this include the joint management and maintenance of the Rhine, cross-border access to health services and the construction of the first cross-border tramline between Kehl and Strasbourg. Topics of the future also feature, such as the cross-border testing ground for automated driving in the Saarland/Metz region and the trilateral academic alliance European Campus – EUCOR, which is made up of the universities of Freiburg, Karlsruhe, Strasbourg, Colmar/Mulhouse and Basel.
Since the mid-1970s, a series of bodies and structures have been established for cross-border cooperation with France – in the Upper Rhine area (trilateral formats with France and Switzerland: the Upper Rhine Conference, Upper Rhine Council and Upper Rhine Intergovernmental Commission) and the Greater Region around the Saar and Moselle (with France, Luxembourg and Belgium). Furthermore, the 2019 Treaty of Aachen established the Franco-German Cross-Border Cooperation Committee. This body is made up of representatives of the national governments, the national parliaments, the Länder and French regions, and regional and local authorities connected across the border in what are known as eurodistricts. The Committee, like the cooperative bodies in the Upper Rhine area and Greater Region, helps to eliminate obstacles to coexistence in the border regions.
From repairing to preventing problems
Border areas are inherently a place where differing legal regulations collide, and these regulations often prove incompatible. To name just one example, the emissions-control windscreen stickers on German and French vehicles are not comparable because the relevant EU air quality directive was implemented in fundamentally different ways in Germany and France. The two countries have only recently begun to recognise each other’s stickers – and not in all cases. Cross-border obstacles such as this could be prevented during the preparation of new laws if efforts were made to identify and take into consideration the regulatory impact on border areas.
How could these impact assessments work in practice? The Treaty of Aachen tasks the Franco-German Cross-Border Cooperation Committee with carrying out an analysis of the impact of new regulations on the border regions. The Federal Foreign Office therefore commissioned a study in 2022, liaising closely with the French Foreign Affairs Ministry, that offers some initial insight into how impact assessments for the French-German border regions might be implemented. The study by the Euro-Institut in Kehl, Maastricht University and the French agency for cross-border cooperation Mission Opérationelle Transfrontalière can be viewed or downloaded in German and French.
Building on the analysis and the proposals set out in the study, experts from France and Germany are now discussing specific measures to implement this project. Meanwhile, the Federal Foreign Office is consulting with the relevant ministries in a range of different areas to examine the possibility of eliminating obstacles to daily life in border areas by modifying legal and administrative provisions, including by adopting certain exceptions (“experimentation clauses”), an option which is enshrined in the Treaty of Aachen.
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Minister of State for Europe Dr Anna Lührmann is the Commissioner for Franco-German Cooperation. She coordinates political relations with France and works to promote broad-based societal exchange between the two countries.