France and Germany endorse a disenchanted vision of their relationship in new treaty


The treaty that France and Germany will sign on Tuesday (22 January) stems from Emmanuel Macron’s pro-European vigour. The text is a pragmatic one, promoting the economy and defence rather than politics but some major differences remain. EURACTIV France reports.

The vision is a clear and immediately obvious one. The first chapter of the new treaty, which EURACTIV has seen, covers European affairs. The text, to be signed in Aachen on 22 January to supplement the 1963 Élysée treaty, is intended to strengthen the European project.

Among Brexit, election shocks, threats to the rule of law and the crisis of representation evident in the ‘yellow vest’ movement, the European project is in need of support.

It remains to be seen if this effort will be enough and followed by tangible effects. Having been proposed by Macron in his speech at the Sorbonne in 2016, the treaty has been the subject of considerable joint work.

However, it seems to be particularly supported by France, even though Angela Merkel elegantly proposed that the treaty be signed at Aix-la-Chapelle, halfway between Paris and Berlin, the site where the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire were crowned.

The German ambassador to France, Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, believed that the two major aspects of the treaty were political cooperation and, notably, establishing a Franco-German chamber, in addition to covering economic aspects.

“It’s something different to the Élysée treaty: we’re moving to concrete measures,” the diplomat said. However, the Élysée believed that the priorities were defence and cross-border areas.

Priority to the economy

A group of experts is expected to work on harmonising the two countries’ economic law, in particular law relating to insolvency. Coordinating how directives are interpreted and implemented would also be useful.

“It’s the first very important step in strengthening the common economic area,” said Alexandra Seidel-Lauer, spokesperson of the Franco-German chamber of commerce.

For cross-border issues, the treaty initiates specific projects which are assigned to local actors. Under Macron’s idea, the Franco-German economic area should constitute a laboratory of convergence between European countries, which is far from the case at the moment. Finally, a joint council of experts will be established, at France’s request, to exchange economists’ ideas.

“In France, our economists stress the need for a eurozone budget and fiscal stimulus efforts, whereas in Germany, the Council of Economic Experts always criticises the government for spending too much, so we will make a joint council to translate the closer economic policies,” it was said at the Élysée.

The text is also the result of a compromise. The version supported by parliamentarians had common objectives with regard to social standards, corporate tax harmonisation and carbon pricing, which are no longer included.

“Admittedly, this treaty opens the door to enhanced cooperation in the economic, social and political fields but when compared to the resolution adopted by the two countries’ governments in January, this treaty has been weakened. It isn’t ambitious,” said Franziska Brantner, spokesperson for the Greens at the German Bundestag.

“You can criticise the lack of concrete points, but this text is a treaty, it has been made to last for decades, it’s not a decree,” stressed Christophe Arend, the French MP for Moselle from La République En Marche (LREM) and chair of the Franco-German friendship group at the French National Assembly.

Friction between France and Germany over En Marche's European ambitions

In the run-up to a European council on the revival of the European project, the increasingly direct political rivalry between En Marche and the CDU make the exchange between France and Germany difficult.

At the political level, the cooperation, which had already been initiated, has been made official but in a reduced form. The only real requirement is that one French minister and one German minister participate in one council of ministers of the other country on a quarterly basis. The establishment of a Franco-German chamber of 50 representatives, which will meet regularly, will also be ratified shortly.

Defence at forefront

Another crucial point for France, on which the Germans remain discreet, is that the treaty commits both parties “to lend each other aid and assistance, including by armed force, in the event of an armed attack against their territories.” “This is a first,” it was said with great enthusiasm at the Élysée.

Germany envies France’s seat on the UN security council but France rejects any idea of sharing this position, not seeing any incentive for this concession.

However, the treaty states that the two states will closely cooperate within all the bodies of the United Nations and that “Germany’s admission as a permanent member of the UN security council is a priority of Franco-German diplomacy.”

This is a point which German MP Franzika Brantner considered “absurd,” believing that France would not campaign for German membership when it seems to be time to open the UN security council to emerging and developing countries.

The creation of a European defence fund and a coordinated military initiative already constitute a significant change in the German approach. “We’ve never gone so far and so explicitly towards rapprochement in defence,” the Élysée said.

The treaty provides for the “closest possible cooperation” between the two defence industries and a common approach to weapons exports. This is a difficult point for Germany to swallow as it is very reluctant about even the concept of weapons exports, which – unlike France-  it strictly regulates.

The treaty, therefore, endorses a more concrete relationship, which both parties want to deepen, but without any naïve optimism. “We’re first working at the Franco-German level, even if it means taking note of the differences, but it’s no longer exclusive,” the Élysée stated.

Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic

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