Franco-German cooperation makes modest step forward

Merkel Hollande.jpg

No major announcement marked the 50th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty, perhaps unsurprisingly, but the adoption of two new texts shows the French and Germans are still making steps towards further cooperation. EURACTIV France reports.

The first of these texts, named the Berlin Declaration, signed off by the two heads of government François Hollande and Angela Merkel, harks back to the 1963 bilateral treaty, outlining the same main areas of cooperation: youth, culture, the economy, and defence.

The second, adopted after a joint meeting of French and German ministers, lays out the main projects on the agenda over 18 pages, including:

  • The Franco-German Youth Office, which distributes mobility grants, should enlarge its scope in order to provide further support to young people after their university studies. “The Franco-German Youth Office (OFAJ) and the Franco-German Secretary for young professionals training (SFA) will develop their activities in the area of orientation, training and professional mobility.”
  • Launch of a Franco-German certificate for youth organisers.
  • Creation of a Franco-German secondary school in Latresne near Bordeaux. The start of the school year in 2013 will be marked by the opening of a Franco-German section and professional baccalaureate in aeronautic sciences. “Incidentally, many local enterprises have already shown their interest in welcoming German students and creating a network of dedicated enterprises”, according to the Aquitaine region.
  • Creation of a working group gathering together trade unions and employers in order to reflect on competitiveness and social protection.
  • Putting in place a Franco-German employment agency in Kehl.
  • Cooperation between the French Caisse des Dépôts and the German Reconstruction Credit Institute (Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau) to finance work in energy efficiency.
  • Dialogue between the two governments to improve the access of French and German companies to primary materials.

In May, the French and German executives will put new proposals on the economic and monetary union on the table with one eye on the European Council in June.

>> Read: Germany, France to table new proposals for the eurozone

In parallel, parliamentarians from both sides foresee tighter cooperation, in adopting for example common positions on future enlargement of the EU and in creating working groups other than those that exist already (youth, the economic crisis, cultural diversity).

As of 14 February, a delegation from France’s socialist government led by Harlem Désir has forecasted a trip to Berlin to meet Sigmar Gabriel, the head of the social-democrats, and Peer Steinbrück, a German socialist candidate for the Chancellorship. The French Socialist Party (PS) have decided to launch an agreement from June dedicated to Europe, led by the MP from Seine-Maritime and former MEP Estelle Grelier.

EURACTIV France spoke to analysts who explained that the Élysée Treaty has put in place an elaborate mechanism for bilateral consultation and coordibation.

"The big decisions at the top are only the tip of the iceberg. The strong intreweaving of the two administrations allowed the two countries to resolve their differences, "says Marion Gaillard, a lecturer at Sciences Po.

Following the disastrous negotiations of the Treaty of Nice in 2000, which exposed the rivalry between France and Germany on the European level, the process Blaesheim was put in place to provide regular informal meetings between the two leaders and created the Franco-German Council of Ministers. Because they have forged a common line of action, these bodies allow the two countries to “get back on their feet gently, because pretty tough tensions can arise again” said Claire Demesmay specialising in Franco-German relations for the DGAP think tank.

The Treaty of Friendship signed at the Élysée Palace in Paris in 1963 by Germany's Konrad Adenauer and France's Charles de Gaulle buried the hatchet almost two decades after World War Two ended.

Perhaps the most powerful image of reconciliation came in 1984 when Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand - mentors of Merkel and Hollande - held each other by the hand at the site of the Battle of Verdun, where 700,000 of their countrymen died in World War One.

They went on to lay the foundations of Europe's economic and monetary union, a project that France hoped would harness German power after reunification in 1990.

The return of a French Socialist government under Hollande has led to tension between Paris and Berlin.

But after a brief flirt with Italy and Spain in mid-2012 that spawned talk of an anti-German southern bloc within Europe, Hollande has turned back to Berlin, keen not to be lumped too closely with the ;euro's troubled periphery at a time when France's own economy is wobbling and in need of reform.

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