Last updated in June 2017
France is Germany’s closest and most important partner in Europe. With no other country are policies coordinated more extensively or regularly. Important milestones in the friendly relations between the two countries in recent decades include:
- the Treaty on Franco-German Cooperation of 22 January 1963 (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
- 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 by Federal Chancellor Merkel and President François Hollande and a joint session of the German Bundestag and the French National Assembly attended by both governments, President Hollande, Federal President Joachim Gauck, members of the German Bundesrat and the French Senate
- the official visit to France by Federal President Gauck in September 2013, during which he was accompanied by President Hollande to Oradour-sur-Glane to commemorate a massacre of the civilian population committed there by the SS in 1943; the meeting there between the two presidents and survivors of the massacre was further striking testimony to the progress made in Franco-German reconciliation
- the joint ceremony to commemorate the outbreak of the First World War, which was held at Hartmannswillerkopf in Alsace in August 2014 and attended by Federal President Gauck and President Hollande
Other outstanding institutions and cooperation projects enriching bilateral relations between Germany and France include:
- the Franco-German Youth Office (offering a variety of programmes with some 8 million participants since 1963)
- the Franco-German Secretariat for Vocational Training Exchanges, with more than 95,000 participants in exchange programmes since its founding in 1980
- institutional cooperation in the academic sphere, e.g. the Franco-German University (a network of integrated study programmes leading to double degrees), the German Historical Institute Paris, the German Forum for Art History and more than 60 German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) lector positions in France
- the Franco-German history textbook, a three-volume general history book for upper school students (not a history of Franco-German relations) – the world’s first textbook with identical content in use in two countries
- the joint TV channel ARTE
- 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 European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (AIRBUS Group)
- the French-German Research Institute of Saint-Louis (ISL, since 1958 engaged in basic research as well as scientific studies and preliminary development work in the field of defence and security)
Cooperation is intensified by a civil society network of some 300 Franco-German societies, 22 regional partnerships and 2200 town twinning arrangements, some 4300 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 close collaboration with other European partners. It is constantly evident that in a European context, progress can best be achieved if Germany and France pull together (the Franco-German engine).
One particular success was the close coordination of policy between Germany and France during the European debt crisis. Cooperation between Berlin and Paris resulted in a basic framework of measures to stabilise the euro, which were subsequently adopted at European level: the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and the Fiscal Pact.
The two Governments meet regularly for bilateral consultations (since 2003 as the Franco-German Ministerial Council), most recently on 13 July 2017. The Franco-German Financial and Economic Council was created in 1988 by a supplementary protocol to the Élysée Treaty. Its members comprise the two countries’ finance and economics ministers and central bank presidents. According to the supplementary protocol, the council meets four times a year; two annual meetings each at ministerial and state secretary level have become customary. The 49th meeting of the Franco-German Financial and Economic Council was held on 23 September 2016 at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) in Berlin. The following issues were on the agenda: strengthening growth and investment in Europe, tackling the challenges raised by the Brexit vote, setting priorities for the EU-27 and the eurozone, and discussing cooperation at the G20 in light of the German Presidency.
Traditionally, political parties in France can be grouped into two camps – the leftists and the (conservative) rightists. An exception is La République en Marche (REM), the newly formed party led by President Emmanuel Macron, which cannot be neatly grouped into either of these camps. It obtained an absolute majority (308 out of 577 seats) in the parliamentary elections held in June 2017, the first in which the party participated. REM is joined in the governing coalition by the centrist Mouvement Démocrate (MoDem) party. The conservative Les Républicains (LR) party, formerly the UMP, lost a large number of seats in the 2017 parliamentary elections, but remains the largest opposition party in the National Assembly. It won a majority of French cities and towns in the local elections of March 2014, and has been the largest political group in the French Senate since the elections of September 2014.
The liberal camp traditionally consists of numerous small parties. The parties that came together in 2012 to form the Union des démocrates et indépendants (UDI) hold 18 seats in the National Assembly. The UDI generally aligns itself with Les Républicains, but has joined with some members of the LR political group in working with the ruling majority. Other opposition parties in the National Assembly include the Parti Socialiste (PS), the left-wing alliance La France Insoumise (LFI), the Parti Communiste (PC), the right-wing populist party Front National (FN) as well as several smaller parties, mostly from the left.
There is intensive cooperation between France’s National Assembly and the German Bundestag as well as wide-ranging contacts between the French Senate and Germany’s upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat. For more than 50 years, the German-French Parliamentary Friendship Groups of the French Senate and the German Bundesrat have been meeting annually to exchange ideas and views.
Bilateral interparliamentary contacts include:
- joint sessions of the Foreign Affairs Committees of the Bundestag and the National Assembly and the European Affairs Committees of both countries’ upper and lower houses
- 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 of the German Bundesrat and Bundestag and the French Senate and National Assembly
- mutual brief visits by parliamentarians of both countries to observe the work of their counterparts
- the annually awarded parliamentary prize for an academic thesis on bilateral relations
- an annual joint session of the German Bundestag and the French National Assembly, most recently held in February 2017
Cooperation between the German federal states and the French regions
Cooperation at the level of the German Government, Bundestag and Bundesrat is complemented by consultations and joint projects at regional level. Key issues here include promoting knowledge of the partner country’s language and culture, bolstering the mobility of workers, setting up cross-border vocational training programmes and building networks between business companies, universities and research institutions.
There is also very close cross-border cooperation between French and German border regions, particularly in the two cooperation regions on the Upper Rhine (as part of the Trinational Metropolitan Region of the Upper Rhine, established in 2010 as the first cross-border metropolitan region) and in the quadrinational SaarLorLux Greater Region (Lorraine, Luxembourg, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland and Wallonia) as well as in five Franco-German eurodistricts.
Cooperation on security and defence policy
Cooperation between Germany and France on security policy is very close. The joint Franco-German Brigade initially symbolised the two countries’ will to cooperate on military policy. It came to be regarded, with the Eurocorps, as the nucleus of European armed forces under the European Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). For decades now, mutual training has been provided at the schools, academies and universities of the German and French armed forces. Exchange officers do duty at defence ministry level, in command authorities and in many different units, making them an integral part of the partner country’s armed forces. The Federal Armed Forces are thus making an important and substantial contribution to strengthening Franco-German relations. Through joint operations, close cooperation between Germany and France is setting an example for the further development of a common European foreign and security policy.
Bilateral economic relations
Germany and France remain important trading partners for one another, even though German trade with the United States slightly exceeds trade with France. In 2016, German trade with France (imports and exports) was worth a total of 167.1 billion euros. The flow of investments in both directions remains constantly high.
The interest in bilateral economic exchange and cooperation is also evident from the large number of joint activities and networks. For example, France will be the guest of honour at the 2017 Frankfurter Buchmesse - Frankfurt Book Fair in October. Exchange between German and French companies was institutionalised in 1990 through the annual Franco-German Encounters in Evian. The Franco-German Renewable Energy Coordination Office, which was set up in 2006, was renamed the Franco-German Energy Transition Office in 2016.
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 France and Germany respectively.
The Franco-German Cultural Council (DFKR) was founded in 1988 with the aim of promoting cultural cooperation between the two countries and fostering a process of intercultural penetration. The DFKR 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, Franco-German University study programmes, the Franco-German Forum academic exchange in Strasbourg, government-level Franco-German research forums, etc.).
The Franco-German University (FGU) is a group of affiliated member universities from both France and Germany. It promotes relations and exchange between these universities by offering binational study programmes with double degrees as well as PhD and research programmes. There are currently more than 6000 students enrolled under the umbrella of the FGU.
The Franco-German Youth Office remains the key player in youth exchange, with some 200,000 young people participating each year.
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.
The close cooperation on education policy is supported by the Franco-German schools. In Germany, there are grammar schools of this kind in Saarbrücken and Freiburg, and in France the Lycée franco-allemand de Buc near Versailles. The two German schools abroad in France (in Saint Cloud near Paris and in Toulouse) are members of the partner school network with a special affiliation to Germany.
Of particular importance for school cooperation between Germany and France are the binational school-leaving qualifications AbiBac and the Option Internationale du Baccalauréat (OIB). Since 1994, students have been able to simultaneously obtain the Baccalauréat and the Abitur with the AbiBac examination at schools in France and Germany, thus acquiring – both at home and in the partner country – a university entrance qualification as well as access to vocational training and a profession. The OIB is also 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.
Another indispensable element in promoting mutual understanding and intercultural cooperation is the civil-society network, which includes more than 300 Franco-German societies, 22 regional partnerships and 2200 town twinning arrangements as well as 4300 school partnerships. Initial contacts at this level were established back in 1945, immediately after the end of the war.
This text is intended as a source of basic information. It is regularly updated. No liability can be accepted for the accuracy or completeness of its contents.