Immunity from the crises of others is a thing of the past

01.10.2014 - Interview

Article by Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on the occasion of his visit to Paris on the Day of German Unity.

Article by Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on the occasion of his visit to Paris on the Day of German Unity. Published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 1 October 2014 and in Le Figaro on 2 October 2014.


I will be travelling to Paris on this year’s Day of German Unity. This is not a coincidence, but rather a symbol of our firm resolve to shape the future together with France. My counterpart Laurent Fabius will soon be travelling to Berlin to attend a Cabinet meeting as a guest of honour. This is a reflection of our deep and trusting relationship, built up over half a century. Yet this relationship is not something we can take for granted today.

France and Germany are two self-confident nations united in a friendship that is not free of tension. The complexity of our partnership is neatly expressed by a familiar cliché, which goes something like this: the Germans love the French, but only receive respect in return. The French, on the other hand, insist that they be respected, but only receive love from us. But to what extent are love and respect a hallmark of our everyday relations nowadays?

If one follows the Franco‑German public debate, one is forced to ask oneself whether the German‑French couple is really still looking each other in the eye. Bristling with words and phrases such as “inability to reform” and “sloppy budgeting”, or “disciplinarian” and “obsession with saving”, polemical discourses are poisoning the atmosphere. Our one-tracked mind, obsessed with the thickness of each other’s wallets, is obscuring much of what our friendship is actually based on.

There is absolutely no doubt that our economic fortunes are closely entwined as a result of our common internal market and the euro. If France is not fit, then Europe has to play without one of its key forwards. And if Europe is relegated from the premier league, then Germans are just as hard hit.

The French Government has embarked on its reform programme with a great deal of courage, and I have no doubt that France will respect the jointly agreed stability rules. I trust in France’s resolve to hold firm to this course, despite the headwinds this entails. Yes, all of these issues are important. However, we cannot allow Franco-German relations to be reduced to the Stability and Growth Pact.

Dramatic upheavals are taking place not far from Europe’s borders that threaten international peace and our security. I cannot recall any moment in the past when we were confronted by such a great number of serious, and concurrent, crises.

If we look beyond our borders, it is clear that, more than ever, we need Europe to stand united. Germany and France are taking joint action in each of today’s crises – in Ukraine, the Middle East and Africa. Our alliance is a political signal. And it makes a big difference whether Germany or France act alone or we are able to count on each other’s political, diplomatic and military knowledge and skills.

Our cooperation with Paris is of the utmost importance in this situation. On the very day I took office, I spoke to Laurent Fabius in person for the first time. This meeting was followed by many crucial moments. For instance, we met our Polish colleague in Kyiv as the Maidan burned and no one knew what would happen next. Together we went to Moldova, Georgia and Tunisia to overturn the widely held perception that Germany cares most about Eastern Europe and France about Europe’s southern neighbourhood. When Paris and Berlin act together in the world, the impact that we make is greater. And if we pool our resources, as in our plans to set up a joint airlift to West Africa to fight the Ebola epidemic, then we can achieve much more and help more people on the ground.

Our obligation to work together to preserve Europe’s values in a world that seems to have got out of joint is also part of the big picture. Throughout Europe, populists are becoming ever more vocal, preaching adoption of national egoisms, isolationism and intolerance. These are not the values of democracy and solidarity of the revolutions for liberty in 1789 and 1989. Together, we are determined to stand up to the demagogues. If France and Germany do not sing clearly from the same song sheet, both at home and abroad, then this will be to the detriment of us both – and many others. Immunity from the crises of others is a thing of the past.

These are all good reasons for mutual respect. While love may not be the preserve of government ministers, the Franco-German friendship has been close to the hearts of millions of people in both of our countries for decades. It is thanks to these people that our partnership is not merely confined to the offices of bureaucrats, but is deeply rooted in cities, towns and villages from Kiel to Biarritz. Would we, 24 years ago, have received such a vote of confidence from our French neighbours – a prerequisite for German reunification – without this commitment? The Franco-German project and the European peace project in which a reunified Germany has taken its place depend on this trust – trust that will now help us as we move forward together into the future.

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