Between Past and Future

The Dynamics of the German-French Friendship
© Florian Stormacq, Unsplash

On 22.01.1963, 61 years ago, a big milestone in the development of German-French relations was set. The signing of the Élysée Treaty by Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and French President Charles de Gaulle marked the beginning of a new era of bilateral cooperation at cultural, economic, and political levels.

After the Second World War, reconciliation between the two countries seemed unthinkable at first. When Charles de Gaulle invited Konrad Adenauer to his private residence in 1958, it represented an even more significant gesture for the revival of German-French relations. Together, they laid the groundwork for the subsequent Élysée Treaty and cooperation.

Aachen Treaty: A New Impulse for German-French Friendship

In 2019, Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron signed a new treaty in Aachen, seen as a symbolic advancement of the historic Élysée Treaty. The Aachen Treaty aims to further intensify German-French cooperation, especially in international and European politics, through closer coordination at major European meetings. Additionally, it emphasizes enhanced military cooperation, including in areas such as arms exports. The treaty also promotes exchanges in education, research and youth, for example, through programs like the Franco-German Youth Office and multilingual education opportunities, to further strengthen the bonds between the two countries.

Since 2019 the political climate in both countries has changed significantly. The 2021 German federal election led to a change in government, with the SPD, the Greens, and the FDP now forming the federal government. Thus the Liberals have returned to government after eight years. However the challenges for the „Ampelkoaliton“ have been enormous since then: a pandemic, a war in Europe, energy crisis, inflation, tensions in the Middle East, rising migration, a shift to the right, and the overarching climate crisis.

Criticism of the coalition is steadily increasing. Some internal critics of the FDP even believe that continued participation in the government endangers liberalism in Germany.

The past year has also been difficult for France: Important legislation could only be passed with the votes of the far-right. To win the support of conservatives, the government had to make significant compromises.

Last week, French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne submitted her resignation following President Emmanuel Macron's planned government reshuffle.

Young and Progressive: Attal as France's New Political Face

The 34-year-old Gabriel Attal, considered a close confidant of the President and also the youngest and first openly gay head of government in the history of France, is France’s new Prime Minister.

This decision is aimed at stopping the rise of the extreme right before the 2024 European elections, as the National Rally currently leads by around 10%. From a strategic perspective, Attal's nomination could also secure the support of center-left voters. Attal, a former member of the Socialist Party, represents progressive ideas and is strongly committed to combating cyberbullying and homophobia, which has become a major concern in his political agenda.

He has a reputation for being able to conduct constructive discussions with representatives of other political camps. Attal's popularity has risen in the last six months due to media attention leading him to overtake former Prime Minister and presidential candidate Edouard Philippe as France's most popular politician according to a December IPSOS poll.

Sandra Weeser thereby hopes for new hope and willingness to compromise before the European elections:

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Séjourné as Foreign Minister: Macron's New Impulse for Europe?

In the course of the new government reshuffle, Stéphane Séjourné, the former head of the liberal faction in the EU Parliament, was selected as the new Foreign Minister by Macron. Expectations for Séjourné are high, especially regarding a stronger involvement of the Foreign Ministry in European matters compared to Catherine Colonna. However, it remains to be seen to what extent this restructuring will open new possibilities for reforms for the crisis-ridden presidential camp. Moreover, it is uncertain what impact these changes might have on the upcoming European elections. It can be seen as an attempt to strengthen France's role and influence in Europe, but the question remains whether these measures are sufficient to bring about significant political changes and strengthen voter confidence in Macron's leadership.

Between Berlin and Paris: Growing Tensions in Economy and Politics

The current economic and political situation in Europe, however, highlights significant discrepancies between Germany and France, indicating an increasing divergence in bilateral relations.

Economically this is especially evident in the Gross Domestic Product: While France's GDP is rising, making the country attractive to both international and national investors, Germany's GDP has slightly declined in the past year.

Furthermore, in recent months, there have been differences of opinion between Paris and Berlin on current issues such as defense, energy, and finance.

These tensions are also evident in the response to international conflicts, such as in Israel. Paris was surprised by Germany's restraint towards Netanyahu. Particularly controversial was the decision of German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who, along with British Foreign Secretary David Cameron, spoke out against an immediate ceasefire in Israel, thus opposing the French demand for a general ceasefire.

In Berlin, vague statements from France and independent initiatives, regarding Taiwan or industrial issues, have led to irritation. Meanwhile, there are concerns from Paris that Germany does not fully grasp the geopolitical urgency and acts too hesitantly. There are general doubts about whether Berlin is willing to decide on fundamental future issues together with France in a European context. Both nations criticize the other's lack of willingness to compromise and miss a bilateral consensus.

Thus, the list of German-French differences and blockades continues to grow.

For a United Europe - Cooperation Across Borders

Germany and France are dealing with global problems due to growing tensions between the U.S. and China. They need to stop focusing only on their own country's economy. Instead, they should work together to improve and make the European Union stronger.

The implementation of a joint European army could be a step in the efforts to strengthen the European Union, as the liberal factions in both countries agree. Dr. Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann supports President Macron's demand and emphasizes the necessity for Germany and Europe to take on more responsibility in foreign and security policy in times of international challenges and crises.

2024 will be an eventful year for Europe, which is why both countries should continue to work together instead of against each other. A proactive and visionary leadership in Europe is required and cannot be achieved alone.