The word “Erbfeind” is obsolete

21.01.2019 - Article

A new Franco-German friendship treaty is being signed in Aachen. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) has explained in the NWZ newpaper and elsewhere why this relationship is so important.

Interview with Foreign Minister Maas
Interview with Foreign Minister Maas© dpa

Emoji. Willkommenskultur (welcome culture). Lügenpresse (lying press). When the new edition of Duden, the standard German dictionary, was published in 2017, it included 5000 new terms which have since become an uncontested part of the language. Quite a few reflect the changes in modern society, both positive and negative. Other terms can still be found in Duden, but are used less and less often. Once such example is Erbfeind, meaning a sworn enemy. For centuries, the French were considered the sworn enemies of the Germans. This delusion sowed the seeds for two cruel world wars.

Fifty-six years ago, Germany and France drew the lessons from their bloody past by concluding the historic Elysée Treaty, and said “no!” to this long-standing enmity and “no!” to war and destruction. It marked a new beginning. Reconciliation led to understanding; understanding to friendship. Today we enjoy closer ties with France than with any other country.

But we must not be self-satisfied for all we have achieved. Populists and nationalists are on the advance around the world. Tariffs and trade disputes pose a threat to our prosperity. International law is openly impugned. Crises and conflicts are making themselves felt even here in Europe – as most recently demonstrated by the refugee debate. In times like these, there is even more need to stand shoulder to shoulder with France.

That is what the Treaty of Aachen is intended to achieve. Together, we are looking to the future. We are putting the Franco-German friendship in the service of a strong, functioning Europe.

We invite all partners and friends to join us as we fight for a peaceful, just world and a rules-based international order. We also want to bring about very specific improvements in people’s daily lives, for example for those living in the border regions, by enhancing yet further the cooperation between companies and administrative bodies on both sides of the border. Day care for children, healthcare, schooling and vocational training should be available across borders, there should be cross-border job placement services and transnational infrastructure projects – the Treaty of Aachen covers all these issues. In a nutshell, it provides everyday solutions which could pave the way for greater integration throughout Europe. We’ve removed the physical barriers. Now we want to overcome the final bureaucratic hurdles.

The generation of my parents and grandparents did what was needed to make friends out of sworn enemies. We seek to continue this course with the Treaty of Aachen. We want to ensure that the word Erbfeind never becomes part of our active vocabulary again. And wouldn’t it be nice if, at some time in the future, a later edition of Duden were to include the term Erbfreund (sworn friend) to describe the Franco-German relationship?



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