50 years of the Élysée Treaty: the foundation of a unique friendship

18.01.2013 - Interview

Joint article by Bernard Cazeneuve and Michael Georg Link, the Commissioners for Franco-German Cooperation, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Élysée Treaty.Published on 18 January 2013 in the Stuttgarter Zeitung and the French daily “Le Figaro”.


One good thing about commemorative events is that they allow us to reflect on the lessons learned from the past, to consider them in light of present challenges and to apply them to the future. The historical depth of Franco-German relations can be seen most clearly in their indispensable contribution to the construction of Europe.This historical depth allows us to recognize that it would be wrong to let small differences of opinion on current topics be seen as a turning point in our history, cutting us off from a “golden era” in this relationship.

But what “golden era” are we talking about? Are we talking about the period shaped by the Élysée Treaty, a courageous and visionary founding act in a special historical context, in an era in which memories of the war were still very alive in the hearts of those who had suffered in it?Although the Treaty, which securely anchored Franco-German relations in peace and progress, has been raised to almost sacred status, we should not ignore the fact that Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle sometimes held different views.General de Gaulle hoped that France’s size and Europe’s ambition would ensure a certain distance to the United States. Federal Chancellor Adenauer, on the other hand, believed that France and Germany’s European ambitions would be strengthened by the transatlantic ties. Overcoming these differences allowed the two prominent statesmen to reach a historic compromise.

Helmut Schmidt and Valéry Giscard D’Estaing achieved something similar, having agreed to never air their differences publicly.They gave the impression that they agreed on all questions. For Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand it was the deeply felt personal friendship that put them in a position to find the solutions that made the common currency and common market possible.The same thing is true today as well, when in light of the crisis the list of points of agreement is much longer than that of perceived differences. It makes no difference if the topic is joint banking supervision, keeping the euro area intact or the commitment to the euro or even the concept of a “Europe of security and defence” which is being pursued within the framework of the Weimar Triangle.

“A unique, exemplary relationship”

In a few days, our countries will celebrate the 50th anniversary of a treaty that has gone down in history as the “Élysée Treaty”. This treaty sealed France and Germany’s irrevocable commitment to reconciliation and asserted their desire to develop a unique, exemplary relationship. This treaty is one of a kind. It promotes and facilitates the rapprochement of the countries’ governments and people through institutional cooperation of hitherto unknown intensity and through the integration of civil society in both countries into the day-to-day course of these very close and comprehensive bilateral relations. Fifty years later, our economies are more tightly connected than ever. Joint industrial projects have been successfully completed. We have begun civil law alignment with the Franco-German matrimonial property regime. The cultural channel “ARTE” and the Franco-German history textbook have successfully raised awareness of the special nature of our friendship among the citizens of our two countries.

Germany and France have always been a source of fresh ideas for Europe as a whole and have always understood themselves as the avant-garde. Already immediately after the war it was above all Germany and France that were responsible for the creation of the European Community as a space of freedom and prosperity. Today the level of integration in the European Union is unique in the world. Internal borders have lost all meaning and a common currency has been created. Also in the future, Germany and France will have a special responsibility for continuing European integration. The year 2013 will not only be a year of commemoration. The 50th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty is a welcome opportunity to demonstrate the stability and permanence of the friendship between our countries. We cannot let this opportunity pass us by. We want to strengthen Franco-German relations in all areas. Our most important goals will be to create enthusiasm for the Franco-German project among our young people, to further develop our cultural cooperation and to introduce policies that make growth, competitiveness, employment and social cohesion possible. Knowledge of the other’s language and of our common history deserves more appreciation. Creating a joint employment office in the border region and increasing funding for the Franco-German Youth Office are further examples of joint initiatives we are taking to increase the awareness that France and Germany share a common destiny.

On the basis of these stable relations we can tackle the current challenges for Europe’s future together. The crisis of the sometimes irrational financial sector, the threats to our internal and external security and the rise of important new global players force us to create new tools, new policies and new visions to win back the peoples’ trust in Europe. Today it must be our highest priority to bring the economic and monetary union to complete fulfilment by creating a banking union and achieving better coordination of economic policies. We share the view that the economic and monetary union that both countries want can only be achieved on the basis of sound state finances. Too much public debt would be counterproductive and put a heavy burden on future generations. Germany and France are aware that they bear a special responsibility because they are the driving force behind so many initiatives. Together we want to strengthen the EU’s competitiveness while maintaining the social standards that are part of the European model of a society characterized by openness, tolerance and solidarity.

These ambitious projects must be accompanied by a strengthening of the mechanisms of solidarity and democratic oversight. Here, too, our countries are aware of their responsibilities and will play a leading role in realizing the political union.

Strengthening the voice of the EU on the global stage

Together we want to make sure that the European Union’s voice is heard and respected in the world. We want to see Europe make its contribution to international security, to the peaceful resolution of conflicts, to progress in the field of human rights, to development policy and environmental protection. Developing a more active foreign and security policy, also through a common security and defence policy, will advance these goals.

As much as we are happy about what has already been achieved, Franco-German friendship is a valuable tradition that must be nurtured. Especially because the memory of the world wars is less and less present in our nations’ consciousness, it is more than ever necessary to recall what we owe to Franco-German friendship. We must anchor this friendship in the minds of the younger generation and make sure that it continues to develop in the future.

Germany and France are not one society that was artificially divided by the whims of history. The construction of Europe is also not aimed at blurring the differences between our cultures and making them uniform. The goal of the EU is rather to integrate these different identities, to strengthen them and at the same time go beyond them by creating a common European consciousness.

On the bilateral level, the Élysée Treaty helped make this ambition a reality for Germany and France. On the European level, the EU accepts the same challenge and will meet this challenge in the minds of its peoples just as its founding fathers imagined: as a work of peace and prosperity, of hope for the nations of Europe and a necessary project to secure Europe’s place in the world; as a self-evident recognition of the other and the destiny we are committed to sharing.

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