This year is the 50th anniversary of the Franco-German couple, as it is known – with German elections adding a twist. France and Germany decided to hitch their wagons together in January 1963, when they signed the Elysee Treaty of Friendship.
General Charles de Gaulle and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, as the two countries’ heads of state, established this in a bid to further cement reconciliation and end historic mutual enmity between them.
The Elysee Treaty gave European integration a decisive boost, France with Germany becoming a joint engine for progress.
Veteran Europe expert Jean-Dominique Giuliani, President of the Robert Schuman Foundation, told euronews: “The Franco-German couple is a mix of several things. Firstly, it’s a systematic, rational analysis which favours bilateral cooperation to European ends. Then it’s also a fabric of personal relations between the leaders. The Giscard d’Estaing-Helmut Schmidt couple or the François Mitterrand-Helmut Kohl couple combined these two factors. Since those times, that hasn’t exactly been the case.”
A widely-held assessment is that the two countries have become distanced from each other in the past ten years, politically and economically to a point where the couple can be considered no to be together any longer. A Socialist taking power in Paris a year and a half ago, promising to relax budgetary discipline to reboot growth seriously worried Berlin. Relations were stretched, but compromises were found to save the euro.
Giuliani said: “When President François Hollande’s five-year term in office ends and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s term is perhaps renewed, or someone else comes in, that will provide the occasion to relaunch. That’s actually what we need with the Franco-German couple, to nourish political imagination. Because we know that when they agree on things, it’s easier to get a consensus among all the 28 members of the EU.”
France and Germany are deeply divided over how to get Europe out of its present difficulties. Berlin vaunts budgetary discipline as a guaranteed positive influence on growth. Hollande’s centre-right predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, after hanging back for a long time, came round to a point of view that parts of Germany’s recipe for success could be applied to France. Hollande holds the German model at arm’s length.
Giuliani said: “President Hollande’s style is completely different, far more European, compatible with European practices. Yet we sometimes get the impression that he and Mrs Merkel aren’t on the same wavelength, notably about economic matters and the vision each has for Europe.”
Europe-watchers are therefore taking an interest in Germany’s September 22 elections to see how the couple comes out of them – to see whether it will be able to carry on the work of those who came before, possibly to reinvigorate the special relationship which is so important for Europe.