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French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Elysée treaty in Berlin on Tuesday, an accord that has served as the cornerstone of years of close ties between the two countries.
While it’s perhaps fair to say that French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel haven’t always seen eye to eye in the past, the pair have put on a united front to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Elysée treaty on Tuesday in the German capital Berlin.
Also known as the “Treaty of Friendship,” the accord was signed in 1963 by former French president Charles de Gaulle and Germany’s first post-World War II chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, as an official stamp of reconciliation between the two countries. Since then, the treaty has served as the cornerstone of French-German relations, a key partnership within the European Union.
As the two countries celebrate 50 years of close ties, FRANCE 24 spoke with Inga Groth, the official representative of Franco-German relations at the Robert Schuman foundation, a research centre that focuses on the EU and its policies.
FRANCE 24: How did the Elysée treaty change the relationship between France and Germany?
Inga Groth: It was a big step for France and Germany not only because it changed how the two countries interacted, but because it also created an institution that still exists today. The treaty allowed for France and Germany’s governments to establish regular visits and exchanges every year between heads of state and ministers.
More than that, the treaty is exceptional because it was written to be very open-ended. Because of that, France and Germany have been able to engage on a political and diplomatic level as well as encourage cultural exchanges.
FRANCE 24: What did the Elysée treaty mean for Europe?
Inga Groth: Regarding Europe as a whole, it was always in its best interest for France and Germany to build a strong relationship. It’s impossible to think of a Europe without the two countries. Together, they are able to address European issues like the EU budget in a more balanced way.
FRANCE 24: What does the treaty represent today?
Inga Groth: It is impossible to realise just what a big deal the treaty was when it was signed. Today, Franco-German ties are viewed as completely normal – everyone is used to the close relationship the countries share. But that doesn’t mean that the treaty may not need a breath of fresh air. We have to work to keep things strong. As is the case with any relationship, there are good times and then there are tougher times. I think the crisis has forced the two countries to work more closely together, and as a result France and Germany have had to make a lot of fast decisions that they would otherwise have taken more time to tackle. In one recent example, EU finance ministers took the first steps towards a banking union [in December, 2012,] by agreeing to give the European Central Bank new powers to supervise eurozone lenders. The crisis and fears surrounding the euro made it possible for this kind of decision to be made relatively quickly, whereas before it wouldn’t have.
There have also been a number of changes on the political level. Whenever a new leader is elected, there will always be a period of adjustment. The relationship that [former French president] Nicolas Sarkozy shared with Merkel is completely different form the relationship between Hollande and Merkel. I think Hollande and Merkel may have started off on a low note. No matter what, they will make it work, because there’s no other option.
FRANCE 24: Will the treaty still be relevant in the future, or should it be changed or replaced by another agreement as Europe moves forward?
Inga Groth: As I said before, the truly special thing about the Elysée treaty is that it leaves a lot of room for changes to be made or for new ideas to be added. It is possible France and Germany will need to think of other ways to create further opportunities for exchange, for example on a parliamentary level. As austerity becomes a bigger and bigger issue, it could be helpful for France to invite German representatives to budget meetings. Such exchanges could help the two countries gain a greater understanding of how each other’s systems work.
Although the treaty deals specifically with Franco-German relations, it was never meant to be exclusive. While the two countries enjoy a special relationship, it’s also in their best interest to include their other European partners, like Poland. With 27 countries to consider, it’s not realistic for two to play a game on their own. With that said, I don’t see a major power shift happening in Europe in the near future, so I think the treaty is still important for maintaining French-German ties.