The Treaty of Aachen contains discrete but crucial innovations in the areas of defence and diplomacy. EURACTIV France reports.
The coronation room of the Hôtel de ville of Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen), which will host German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron under Charlemagne’s coat of arms – bringing together the French fleur de lys and the German eagle – on 22 January, deserves a little more enthusiasm.
Similar to an old sluggish diesel engine, which spits out more cinders than it does energy, the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which has just been added to the good old Élysée Treaty of 1963, lacks a major project which could provide a little thrill for the sleeping nations of France and Germany.
The treaty, marked by an entire series of reservations, seems limited in its ambition, hesitating between making an emphasis and cautious realism, ultimately proving less concrete than its predecessor. However, the text also contains some virtues. Many of the commitments, which may seem trivial, are actually real challenges for both countries.
Value of Franco-German relationship
The text’s first strategic virtue is repositioning the Franco-German relationship in the current context. The treaty means that the extent to which cooperation between Paris and Berlin is necessary and useful can be asserted, loud and clear – not only for the French and the Germans but also for Europeans.
With the United Kingdom’s departure, France and Germany remain the EU’s two major powers, representing almost one in three Europeans. This is the framework within which the French and Germans are now setting their activities. This is the fundamental element which distinguishes the Élysée Treaty and that of Aix-la-Chapelle 50 years apart.
“The close friendship between France and Germany remains an essential element of a united, efficient, sovereign and strong European Union,” the treaty stated.
Accordingly, Paris and Berlin are committing to “strengthening their cooperation” in foreign policy, defence and internal security, “while strengthening Europe’s capacity to act independently.” In defence, they commit to both “strengthening Europe’s capacity to act” and “to jointly investing to address its capability shortfalls” in industrial projects, etc.
Rapprochement of French and German armies
The text’s second virtue is to underline the importance of some difficulties which are preventing progress. The treaty intends to lay the foundations for a closer joint approach between the French and German armies.
The intention of “building a common culture” was stated, as well as that of having “joint deployment operations.” This was already the intent of the Élysée Treaty, at least for the doctrinal part. But it cannot be said that the following developments, notably the creation of the Franco-German Brigade had the desired effect.
The “doctrines” of intervention remain different. Even though French and German troops are often on the same terrain (such as Afghanistan, Mali, etc.), it often involves juxtaposed rather than joint deployments.
Achieving this will require much effort on both sides. The French will have to be a little more patient and inclusive and the Germans will have to be a little more willing and efficient. This will be a major challenge.
Common arms exports?
The treaty’s third hidden virtue is establishing of a “common approach to arms exports,” which is not a given. German regulations are stricter than French ones and the German national political context is more sensitive to some exports than is the case in France. However, this is necessary both from a political and economic point of view.
Admittedly, this approach only applies to “common projects” and both countries will remain in charge of purely national projects. However, at least for major investments, joint investment will become the rule.
Between the A400M military transport aircraft, the Tiger attack helicopters, the NH90 transport helicopters, the future heavy tanks, the fighter aircraft of the future (post-Rafale) and the European surveillance drone (Eurodrone MALE), there will be ample equipment. Not defining a common export rule would mean putting certain common industrial projects at risk.
Joint border defence
The fourth commitment is expressing the common will to defend the other country’s borders if they came under attack. The countries intend to mutually ensure “possible aid and assistance in the event of armed attack on their territories.” This would be “by all of the means at their disposal, including armed force.”
This does not appear to be anything new as they echo the so-called “mutual defence or assistance” clauses taken in the framework of NATO or the European Union, with all of the constraints imposed. Therefore, mutual assistance is only initiated in a very serious event, such as an armed attack from outside on one of the two countries’ “European territory”.
This clause might almost appear to be pointless but it would be a mistake to think so. Instead, it is rather a “double” insurance which would only be activated if, for one reason or another, NATO were paralysed. When it comes to military matters, what seems to be unnecessary sometimes proves to be the opposite.
A very hypothetical UN seat
The text’s last virtue is in advocating Germany’s claim to be a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, which would not be illogical given Berlin’s economic and political influence. However, this step is related to a more comprehensive reform of the UN Security Council that the two countries are committing to pushing through.
In reality, this is a gift to the governing coalition in Berlin which made this membership one of the key points of its foreign policy. But Paris has no intention of giving up its permanent membership at the Security Council or its right of veto, one of the sources of French diplomatic power.
This is one of the contradictions of the Franco-German relationship that it would be useful to resolve in the future.
Nicolas Gros-Verhyde is the chief editor of Bruxelles2.eu website, which is dedicated to EU defence policy.