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26.08.2019 - Article

Political relations

France is Germany’s closest and most important partner in Europe. There is no other country with which we coordinate so regularly and intensively at all levels and in all areas.

Highlights in bilateral relations in recent decades include:

  • the Treaty on Franco-German Cooperation (Élysée Treaty) signed by President Charles de Gaulle and Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer on 22 January 1963;
  • the historic gesture by President François Mitterrand and Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who firmly held each other’s hands at the cemetery in Verdun in 1984;
  • the first invitation to a German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, to attend the ceremonies commemorating the Allied landings in Normandy, on 4 June 2004;
  • Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel’s participation in the celebrations commemorating the end of the First World War, held at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on 11 November 2009, and in the commemorative events in June 2014 marking the 70th anniversary of the landing of Allied troops in Normandy;
  • the ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty held in Berlin on 22 January 2013, also coinciding with a joint Franco-German Ministerial Council meeting, the adoption of the Berlin Declaration and a joint session of the German Bundestag and the French National Assembly;
  • the state visit to France by Federal President Joachim Gauck in September 2013, during which he was accompanied by President François Hollande to Oradour-sur-Glane to commemorate the massacre of the civilian population committed there by the SS in 1943;
  • the joint ceremony to commemorate the outbreak of the First World War, which was held at Hartmannsweilerkopf in Alsace on 3 August 2014 and attended by Federal President Gauck and President Hollande;
  • the ceremony on 10 November 2018 attended by President Emmanuel Macron and Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War and held where the armistice was signed, near the town of Compiègne in northern France, and the Federal Chancellor’s participation in the remembrance ceremonies in Paris;
  • the signing of the Treaty of Aachen on 22 January 2019; the treaty raises Franco-German friendship and cooperation to a new level and restructures bilateral relations with an eye to the future.

Selected institutions and examples of cooperation

The main institutions and cooperation projects enriching bilateral relations between Germany and France include:

  • the Franco-German Youth Office (offering a variety of programmes with some eight million participants since 1963);
  • institutional cooperation in the academic sphere, e.g. the Franco-German University (a network of integrated courses leading to double degrees), the German Historical Institute Paris, the German Forum for Art History and over 60 German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) lector positions in France;
  • the joint TV channel ARTE;
  • Airbus, the aerospace and defence company;
  • the Franco-German Integration Council, which the 18th Franco-German Council of Ministers agreed to establish on 7 April 2016. The members of the Council engage in regular, intensive exchange on the two countries’ experience of the integration of people who have been forced to flee their homes, or people with a migration background;
  • the Franco-German Cultural Council;
  • the Franco-German Energy Transition Office (founded in 2006 as the Franco-German Renewable Energy Coordination Office, renamed in 2016);
  • the French-German Research Institute of Saint-Louis (ISL, engaged since 1958 in basic research as well as scientific studies and preliminary development work in the field of defence and security);
  • the Franco-German Secretariat for Exchanges in Vocational Training (more than 95,000 people have taken part in exchange programmes since it was set up in 1980).
  • The close cooperation between the two countries is built on a civil-society network of some 300 Franco-German societies, 22 regional partnerships and 2200 town twinning arrangements, about 4300 school partnerships and around 40 partnerships between German and French schools with bilingual sections. These have spawned remarkably diverse and intensive forms of cooperation.
  • Today, cooperation is increasingly focusing on European policy and on developing a joint stance on international security issues.

Intergovernmental cooperation

Franco-German cooperation goes hand in hand with close collaboration with other European partners. Again and again it becomes clear that, in the European context, progress can best be achieved if Germany and France look for compromise and then pull together (the Franco-German engine). This coordination takes place in bilateral talks all the way up to the highest level, for example in regular intergovernmental consultations in bodies including:

  • the Franco-German Council of Ministers: the two Governments meet annually for consultations, alternately in France and Germany;
  • the Franco-German Financial and Economic Council, which was established in 1988 in a supplementary protocol to the Élysée Treaty and comprises the finance and economic affairs ministers and central bank presidents of the two countries; It meets four times a year (twice at ministerial level, twice at state secretary level);
  • the Franco-German Defence and Security Council;
  • close cooperation between the two Commissioners for Franco-German Cooperation, Minister of State Roth and Minister of State de Montchalin;
  • close cooperation between the Commissioner of the Federal Republic of Germany for Cultural Affairs under the Treaty on Franco-German Cooperation (since 1 January 2019 Minister-President Armin Laschet) and his counterpart, Minister of Culture Franck Riester.

Interparliamentary cooperation

Bilateral interparliamentary contacts include:

  • the Franco-German Parliamentary Assembly, comprising 50 deputies from each of the two parliaments, which met for its constituent session in Paris on 25 March 2019. The Bundesrat and the Senate, the two countries’ upper houses, issued a joint declaration on intensifying relations on 19 March 2019;
  • joint working sessions of the Foreign Affairs Committees of the Bundestag and the National Assembly and the European Affairs Committees of both the Bundestag and National Assembly and the Bundesrat and Senate;
  • an annual Paris-Berlin parliamentarians’ colloquium;
  • a regular exchange of views between German and French political parties;
  • annual meetings of the presiding officers of the Bundestag and the National Assembly;
  • regular meetings of the Parliamentary Friendship Groups in the German Bundesrat and Bundestag and the French Senate and National Assembly;
  • brief visits by parliamentarians of both countries to observe the work of their counterparts;
  • the annual award of the Franco-German parliamentary prize for an academic thesis on bilateral relations;
  • joint sessions of the German Bundestag and the French National Assembly, most recently in January 2018.

Cooperation between the German Länder and the French regions

Cooperation at the level of the Federal Government, Bundestag and Bundesrat is complemented by consultations and joint projects at regional level.

Key measures here include:

  • improving knowledge of the partner country’s language and culture
  • improving worker mobility
  • setting up cross-border vocational training programmes
  • building networks between business companies, universities and research institutions.

There is also very close cross-border cooperation between German and French border regions. Major actors here include:

  • the Upper Rhine Conference
  • the Trinational Metropolitan Region of the Upper Rhine
  • the five Franco-German eurodistricts.

Cooperation on security and defence policy

Germany and France liaise very closely on security policy. Important instances of cooperation:

  • the joint Franco-German Brigade, which symbolises the two countries’ will to cooperate on military policy and, with the Eurocorps, is regarded as the nucleus of European armed forces under the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP);
  • mutual training at the schools, academies and universities of the German and French armed forces;
  • exchange officers at defence ministry level, in command authorities and in many different units;
  • joint operations signal close cooperation between Germany and France and set an example for the further development of the Common Foreign and Security Policy;
  • the 2019 Treaty of Aachen provides for the establishment of the Franco-German Defence and Security Council as a political steering body.

Bilateral economic relations

Germany and France remain each other’s most important trading partners in Europe:

  • in 2018, German trade with France (exports and imports) was worth a total of 170.5 billion euros (figure from Germany Trade & Invest).

France is Germany’s second-largest trading partner; Germany is France’s biggest trading partner. The interest in bilateral economic exchange and cooperation is also evident from the large number of joint activities and networks, such as the annual Franco-German Encounters in Evian, which bring together the leaders of the biggest publicly listed companies in France and Germany.

Cultural relations

Franco-German cultural exchange is close and varied in all areas (theatre, music, visual arts, literature, film, museums). Berlin and Paris in particular attract numerous creative artists from the partner country. These close relations are evidenced by a wide range of institutions and programmes:

  • the Franco-German Cultural Council, which meets twice yearly with the aim of promoting cultural cooperation between the two countries and fostering intercultural permeation processes;
  • networking of schools and universities in France and Germany (mutual recognition of qualifications, binational examinations, partnerships, the Franco-German Forum academic exchange in Strasbourg, etc.);
  • the Franco-German University – a group of affiliated member universities from Germany and France which offers binational courses leading to double degrees as well as PhD and research programmes; there are currently more than 6000 students enrolled under the umbrella of the Franco-German University;
  • the Franco-German Youth Office remains the key player in youth exchange, with some 200,000 young people participating each year;
  • Franco-German schools in Germany (Berlin, Saarbrücken and Freiburg) and France (Lycée franco-allemand in Buc near Versailles, German schools in Saint-Cloud by Paris and in Toulouse);
  • joint school-leaving qualifications: since 1994, pupils have been able simultaneously to obtain both the Baccalauréat and Abitur through the AbiBac exam at schools in France and Germany, entitling them to study, train or work both in their own country and in the partner country; the Baccalauréat à option internationale (OIB) is a binational school-leaving qualification that can be obtained in the German sections of six schools in France;
  • the Franco-German TV channel ARTE, which broadcasts in both languages, complements the language and cultural offerings in the media sector.

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