It seems a bit ironic that while a war is raging in Europe, two European countries, enemies in the past but now the engine of the European Union, have been celebrating the anniversary of a Treaty of Reconciliation signed on 22 January 1963.
The leaders of France and Germany, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, attended the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty last Sunday that sealed the post-World War II reconciliation between France and West Germany.
The treaty was signed by then French president Charles de Gaulle and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer 60 years ago at the height of the Cold War.
Taking into account the troubled history of the relations between the two countries, which in the span of just 25 years had fought two world wars, the 1963 treaty between France and West Germany was an important foundational treaty not only in terms of the bilateral relations between these two states but also in the context of its relevance to the European project today and Euro-Atlantic relations.
For the last six decades, the cooperation between France and Germany has been one of the main drivers of the enlargement of the European Union. The smooth functioning of the union has also largely depended on France and Germany working in tandem.
However, this should not be interpreted to mean that the foreign and defence policies of the two main European powers have always been aligned. Though they publicly say today that they will support Ukraine in defending itself for “as long as it takes,” each country nevertheless has its own strategy in dealing with the question of providing military assistance to Kyiv, for example.
This was demonstrated in a meeting last Thursday of the countries that are members of the Ukraine Defence Contact Group at the US Ramstein military base in Germany, where the latter came under sustained pressure to provide Ukraine with German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks.
Last Sunday, the French president, the German chancellor, and 300 French and German lawmakers held a cabinet meeting at the Élysée Palace in Paris. Macron expressed his hope that France and Germany would become pioneers of what he termed the “re-foundation of Europe.” He said he wanted to see work towards a more capable European Union as a “geopolitical power” in the fields of defence, space exploration, and diplomacy.
Scholz was less upbeat, which should not be a surprise, and he said only that “the future, equally like the past, rests on the cooperation of the two countries in working as the engine of the European Union.”
A spokeswoman for the French presidency, commenting on the convening of the cabinet meeting, said that it shows “how vibrant the relationship between France and Germany is” and that the two countries are “jointly moving forward in Europe.”
She added that real progress had been achieved in preparatory talks ahead of the cabinet meeting in discussing bilateral cooperation in the fields of defence, industrial policy, energy, European Union reform, and immigration.
The meeting had been scheduled since last October, but the French government cancelled it, though it was said at the time that it had just been “pushed back” for scheduling reasons. Not many observers bought this justification. Those familiar with Franco-German relations believe that the French decision in fact was related to policy disagreements on the defence and energy sectors.
For example, France had agreed on a hydrogen and gas pipeline with Spain and Portugal, whereas Germany preferred another project. After the meeting in Paris last week, the French president announced during a joint press conference with the German chancellor that it had been decided to extend the pipeline, known as H2 Med, to Germany.
France, Germany, and the European Commission reacted forcefully recently to the Inflation Reduction Act, passed by the US Congress last August and considered as signature legislation by the Biden administration. The IRA, as the act is known, earmarks $430 billion in a package of tax cuts and subsidies for projects for clean energy development in the US. The Europeans see the act as simply a piece of US protectionism that will be detrimental to European industries and future investments in the production of electric cars.
When Macron made a state visit to the US last December, he talked to US President Joe Biden about the IRA. The Americans promised to work with the Europeans on reaching a compromise solution. If this happens, it will be a major diplomatic, industrial, and trade victory for France, Germany, and Europe as a whole.
This joint effort by the French and the Germans is testament to the solidity and resilience of the Élysée Treaty that has itself contributed to securing peace in Europe for the last six decades. No one doubts that it will remain a cornerstone of European security and prosperity. This is because it did not only mark a spirit of reconciliation between two governments, but also rested on forward-looking popular sentiments of reconciliation.
In other words, the French and German people are the guarantors of the treaty. As director of the Franco-German Institute Frank Baasner, quoted by the German media organisation Deutsche Welle (DW), said, the “treaty was the culmination of a process of rapprochement that came from within society. We must not forget that.”
Can we dare to imagine a similar treaty between Russia and Ukraine, one guaranteed by the joint popular will of both the Russian and Ukrainian people and that can restore security and stability on the eastern borders of Europe for decades to come?
Last but not least, the Élysée Treaty testifies to the fact that De Gaulle and Adenauer were visionary leaders and true statesmen. May they rest in peace.
The writer is former assistant foreign minister.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 26 January, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.