Celebrating 50 years of Franco-German peace

John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — The world is confronted by a maze of crisis ranging from North Africa to the Middle East and South Asia. Places from Afghanistan, to Syria, Somalia and Mali make the grim headlines. So it’s not surprising that an extraordinary achievement of peace and reconciliation in Western Europe is flippantly overlooked as a kind of political given.

Fifty years ago, France and Germany signed the Elysee Treaty, a pact formalizing a long overdue reconciliation between two bitter continental rivals which had fought three wars in less than a century. It solidified peace in the heart of Europe and formed a key building block of stability and prosperity in the still infant Common Market which would later mature into today’s European Union.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, Jan. 22. /Gero Breloer

Two statesmen, French President Charles de Gaulle and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer saw peace as the only path forward for the two neighbors. The path to this amazing friendship progressed throughout the 1950′s, with closer economic integration and Germany’s NATO membership, and saw its culmination in July 1962 with Adenauer’s visit to Reims in France to lay the philosophical cornerstone for the Treaty at the Notre Dame Cathedral which had witnessed the coronations of French Kings but had also seen the carnage of WWI.

A commemorative marker outside the majestic 12th century cathedral quotes de Gaulle telling Archbishop Marty of Reims “His Excellency Chancellor Adenauer and I have just in your Cathedral sealed the reconciliation of France and Germany.”

Thus just eighteen years after the end of WWII, and in the living memory of heinous crimes committed by the Nazis during the occupation, the formal Treaty was signed in Paris in January 1963.

These were anxious times; months earlier France had formally ended its bloody conflict in Algeria and had seen a nervous countdown to Algerian independence on 3 July. Indeed General de Gaulle, still politically wounded by the aftermath of the Algerian debacle, decided to refocus on the European balance of power with his embrace of Chancellor Adenauer. What de Gaulle referred to in Latin as reconciliation between Gallia and Germania, reflected a wider historical view.

Over the past half century the Elysee Treaty has become a pillar in Franco/German relations, and moreover, a building block of the wider European Union. Agreements between Paris and Berlin deal with everything from defense and diplomacy to culture and youth programs. One cannot drive round France without seeing the nearly 2,000 sister city agreements between French and German cities and towns; places, some of which two generations ago, would have signified the sanguinary chapters of WWII.

On the anniversary of the Treaty, French President Francois Hollande and his cabinet went to Berlin for festivities including a joint meeting in the German Parliament with Chancellor Angela Merkel. The events were marked by political pomp, but more importantly symbolism and emotion.

In fact since 1988, France and Germany established a common defense and security body, and economic, cultural and environmental committees. Here at the UN Franco/ German cooperation is close and has been reflected in the Security Council as recently as last year when Germany was a non-permanent member. Militarily, there’s the joint Franco/German brigade, an army unit serving as part of the Eurocorps.

On a lighter side, the French and German government mints have jointly issued a 2 Euro coin which commemorates the landmark treaty.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle described the Elysee Treaty as a “gem in the European treasure chest.” He cited the “exciting evolution” of the relationship which is based not only on formal government ties but the friendship between citizens, especially young people.

Importantly while different political parties may be in power in either Paris or Berlin such as is the current case with the French Socialist Hollande and the German conservative Merkel, as contrasted to the closer personal tie with his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, there’s still tremendous political rapport between both sides.

Westerwelle adds, “I don’t think there are any rules for this, no predictability. Cooperation depends on personalities…it has nothing to do with parties or party politics. What matters is that you develop a good rapport.”

Pierre Rousselin opined editorially in Le Figaro, “Fifty years later, the historic moment needs to be celebrated with even more conviction. The agreement outlined by the Elysee Treaty is in the interest of France, Germany and Europe. It was based on a vision of a statesman which are really lacking today on our continent.”

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for WorldTribune.com.

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