On 22nd January, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel signed a treaty of friendship in the German city of Aachen (Aix la Chapelle). This was exactly 56 years after the Elysée Treaty of 1963, which marked the end of Franco-German animosity and began a new era of mutual support and friendship. This move was initially met with praise by both countries as well as by other Europeans compatriots. And, as always, there were strong reactions from the far right, including France’s right-wing party Rassemblement National (formerly known as the Front National) as well as the German Alternativ für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany).
It’s worth putting this into context first. It comes as no surprise that these two European giants are once again confirming their trust in one another, although history paints quite a different picture. Going back all the way to the Franco-Prussian war that ended in defeat for Prussia in 1871 (and probably before that), the two countries have not always seen eye to eye. This came to a head in the aftermath of the First World War with the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Germany was forced to downsize her army, as well as pay reparations to the Allies and carry the heavy burden of losing a war which cost millions of lives.
both countries have grown to become the driving force of what is now the European Union
Fast forward 26 years and Europe was depleted, economically as well as socially, by war. Germany had once again been defeated and was now occupied by the Allies in the West. Despite these setbacks, the post-war chancellor of West Germany, Konrad Adenauer, made a point of rebuilding diplomatic relations with Europe and in 1963 a treaty of friendship was signed between France and West Germany. Since then, both countries have grown to become the driving force of what is now the European Union.
So, is this new treaty set to change things? Possibly. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you won’t have failed to see that Europe is once again being threatened by nationalism, for instance in Hungary, as well as in France and Germany. Many feel dissatisfied and see the far-right as able to provide the solutions to their problems. Recently, far-right supporters have put their own spin on events such as the “gilets jaunes” protests.
In contrast, the Le Monde editorial of 23rd January brushed off comments made by Marine le Pen that the treaty would be damaging to Franco-German relations and could only praise the move made by both heads of state. The French Libération commented however that it was an agreement for “leaders in distress”. But are they really? Karin Finkenzeller of the German weekly Die Zeit also notes with some consternation that the agreement is not enough to guarantee secure future relations with France. Media on both sides also state that many important matters were not mentioned in the treaty text itself, despite there being reference to further agreement on denuclearisation and future projects to bring the two states closer together, such as town twinning. The fact that a treaty was agreed shows that both leaders were keen to affirm their relations publicly.
The fact that a treaty was agreed shows that both leaders were keen to affirm their relations publicly.
Given the enthusiasm of Merkel and Macron and their willingness to acknowledge that both countries have come a long way since the First World War, this treaty is yet another sign that France and Germany are closer than ever. While the European Union is a group of nations, there is no doubt as to who is at its head. It is essential that this alliance is preserved for the good of other European nations. Who knows what could happen in the future?