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Mr President, Colleagues,
With the Élysée Treaty, France and Germany sealed their reconciliation after two world wars and began a success story without equal. In doing so, they were never thinking only of themselves: from the beginning they always had an eye on their joint responsibility for Europe.
The friendship between Germany and France is unique in its depth and intensity. This is true in the political, economic and cultural spheres. It is, though, above all true for the close, exemplary ties between its citizens. The colleagues who have already spoken have rightly pointed this out.
When we look back on the last fifty years, we can see that a genuine friendship with deep roots in society has developed. What makes the friendship between people from France and Germany unique is how densely interwoven their lives are. The first city twinning was established in 1950, and their number today is 2200. More than eight million young people have participated in its exchange programmes since the Franco-German Youth Office was founded. Its merits have rightly been mentioned. In terms of their economies – and this must be pointed out time and again, because it is sometimes forgotten – Germany and France remain the most important export markets for each other.
Above all, one thing should be clear to us: Franco-German friendship is not a matter of course. In every generation, this friendship must be revitalized by citizens in general and those of us with political responsibilities in particular. Apart from the values we share, this friendship is sustained by two things: experiencing history together and living in close proximity.
Because living so close together is so important and so many Federal Government colleagues have made suggestions about what aspects of cross-border cooperation need improvement – and this is something that members of all parties are invested in – we want to focus especially on improving cross-border cooperation during this anniversary. Indeed, there are some areas where support and improvement are necessary. We do have role models for this cooperation, too. Let me mention just the Eurodistrict, although I could name many more areas. Something tangible must be achieved here and that is exactly what the Federal Government is working on.
The goal of this Franco-German anniversary year is mutual understanding. That of course includes, Mr Gloser, language; that is where understanding starts. We want to increase mutual understanding and create enthusiasm among young people for the project. Just let me say, also with the many young people in school in mind, whether they are listening today or reading the transcript of this debate, it has to be cool to learn the language of our neighbour again and to complete part of our education there.
In this Franco-German anniversary year, we will thus not only celebrate past achievements, but also focus on our common future and responsibility for Europe. The Élysée Treaty has always had a European dimension. Germany and France have been driving this forward together. In the coming decades both our countries will only be able to deal with future challenges from within the framework of a strong Europe of their making.
As the Federal Government, and this was clear from many debates, especially last year when we were discussing how to stabilize the euro area, we have always said that the European Union is our answer to the questions globalization raises for us. The European project is facing very crucial challenges. Many crises have not been solved at all. Quite the opposite, when we think of the debt crisis, the loss of competitiveness, the threats to our security from within and from without and the rise of new global players. We are in the middle of formulating responses to these challenges. Germany and France can contribute much with their European model for an open, caring and tolerant society.
We did not do this, as I have said, by only looking to each other or by trying to dominate others. We have rather tried from the beginning to use the Franco-German friendship to open outwards. Within the framework of the Weimar Triangle we have expanded our friendship in exemplary fashion to include Poland. The Weimar Triangle, and I am expressly calling attention to it here, also stands for living together in close proximity in a neighbourly fashion with a shared history. The Weimar Triangle has become an essential addition to Franco-German friendship and I say this with our Polish friends and neighbours in mind.
Colleagues, to overcome the debt crisis we are currently dealing with, the EU must develop into a true economic and political union. It is Germany and France’s task to implement the necessary measures and I am convinced that they have the courage to do so.
In the course of our cooperation, we must however avoid a misconception: the goals and interests of Germany and France are of course not always automatically the same. Germany and France, despite their similarities, remain two countries with many differences in the political, social and cultural spheres. Controversies are part of the EU and also part of the Franco-German partnership; otherwise we would be a museum.
The struggle to make progress and reach compromises was and is always long and hard. Once an agreement was reached, however – and this is what makes Germany and France so extraordinary – it was upheld. The compromise was then usually a model for an agreement in the entire EU. For me, the task of the Franco-German motor and its contribution is above all to provide advance structure for European decisions, often making them possible in the first place. Our ability to find a compromise, in spite of our different positions and approaches, is what makes the Franco-German relationship unique and special. For that reason, when the Federal Government formulates a position on Europe, it asks from the outset, from the very first, the question “where does France stand on this?” This Franco-German reflex, if I can call it that, cannot be valued too highly. Something like this cannot be prescribed in a treaty. Something like this takes decades to grow.
Ladies and gentlemen, I would now like to round off my remarks. Germany and France can learn much from each other. Germany can, to give just one example, learn very much from France on the topic of the compatibility of family and career. In this area, there are many stimulating ideas that we are studying with interest. On the other hand, as we can see from the many questions of our French friends across all party lines, the dual system of vocational training in Germany is of great interest to France and many of our neighbours.
Our mutual esteem can be seen in the image that our citizens have of each other’s countries. A very recent survey shows that both in Germany and in France between 80 and 90 percent of the population have a positive opinion of the friendship between the countries and consider it to be important, even crucial to Europe.
Ladies and gentlemen, France is our indispensable partner in building Europe’s future and preserving both our prosperity and the European model of society. With this in mind we want to celebrate 22 January with self-confidence, not hiding away.
Colleagues, Franco-German friendship is neither about nostalgia nor rhetoric. It is a strategy suited to the moment to move our European Union forward step by step.