When I was in Ethiopia last week with my French counterpart Catherine Colonna, it was a first to have two women Foreign Ministers there together.
For our protocol staff it was an enormous challenge to work out who should drive first, when, in which car, but when it came to the talks themselves it was the easiest thing I could do as Foreign Minister. My dear colleague Catherine Colonna could equally well have held the talks alone. Throughout our talks, whether they were with the World Food Programme, the African Union or the Prime Minister, we were able to expand on each other’s points, help each other out, jump in and add weight to our arguments.
That sounds quite logical, a matter of course. Why am I mentioning it? Because decades ago it would have been anything but a matter of course. We would never have found ourselves travelling together as the Foreign Ministers of France and Germany – well, as women we certainly wouldn’t have, but not if we were men, either. It is a miracle, and something for us in the subsequent generations to be thankful for, that we can do this together today as partners, as friends and above all as Europeans.
This partnership between France and Germany may seem to us like a matter of course, but we should remember, today of all days, that this friendship did not simply spring into being. When Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle signed the Élysée Treaty 60 years ago, in January 1963, they did so fully conscious of the darkest chapters of European history, of the crimes against humanity that the Nazis had committed. They knew how deep the wounds of the Second World War still ran for the people of Europe, and they knew that there were absolutely reservations about reconciliation between France and Germany – in both countries. But they worked to make it happen nonetheless. And that too was not a matter of course. I would almost say that this is one of the most important things that we should remember today, 60 years later: that reconciliation always requires bold statesmen, back then, and today stateswomen, who have the courage to take this step of reconciliation despite the resistance in their own countries.
Of course, back then that was all the more true for the French side.
But they knew that friendship between our countries is the key to peace in Europe. And so I am thankful that our most important neighbour is today also our best friend. This trust is infinitely precious, and it is a responsibility, not just a responsibility imposed by history but also a responsibility towards the people in our two countries whom we as politicians, as ministers, represent. A recent Ipsos survey found that 81 percent of people in France and Germany believe the “Franco-German engine” is important for the future of the European Union. This shows how much it is expected of us as politicians that we strengthen this cooperation, this partnership, now in particular.
We are doing so – the Federal Government as well as the parliaments. With the Élysée Treaty, we laid the foundations for reconciliation between our societies after the Second World War. With the Treaty of Aachen, we strengthened the friendship that binds us in European affairs and made it the core of our shared European political identity.
But our friendship goes far beyond treaties. Millions of people in France and Germany breathe life into these treaties every day. As do many of you, esteemed colleagues, in your constituencies, as members of the German Bundestag, but also not least as citizens, with town twinning arrangements, with school exchange programmes, in the Franco-German Parliamentary Friendship Group or in the Parliamentary Assembly.
And the Federal Government, too, invests in this friendship every day. Germany has no closer ties than those with France. We coordinate our activities more closely with France than with any other country. Now in particular we desperately need to do so, because we are once again seeing our life, our freedom, our peace being challenged. We therefore met Russia’s brutal war of aggression with a united response from the first day onward, within the EU, NATO, the G7 and the United Nations.
This close and united community is in part thanks to the close and positive communication between Paris and Berlin. And that goes far beyond the response to the brutal Russian war of aggression. It is also true of the efforts to control the climate crisis. At the most recent Climate Change Conference in particular, it was our two countries who drove Europe forward. We are reflecting on the issue together and working on technical solutions that will allow us to further reduce emissions. With the green economy, we are creating a global competition with a view to positioning ourselves as Europeans at the cutting edge. And we are strengthening our European economy by working together on the green transformation.
And, yes, we do sometimes talk about dissent too, because that is what defines true friendship. True friendship does not at all mean always having exactly the same opinion; true friendship means that, particularly when we have very different opinions, we try and see things from the other party’s point of view, put ourselves in their shoes. True friendship means recognising that the other party will be in the right some of the time.
Esteemed colleagues, today in particular, 60 years after the Élysée Treaty between France and Germany was signed, we should do just that. We should always be willing to see things from the other party’s point of view, to put ourselves in their shoes, because our partnership did not simply spring into being. We must invest in the friendship between France and Germany every day, with personal encounters, with concrete projects, but most of all with heart and soul, because our friendship remains the key to peace in Europe. Vive l’amitié franco-allemande! Vive l’Europe!