Our two countries, France and Germany, were competitors, rivals and adversaries for centuries, including the most tragic period during the two world wars in the 20th century, particularly with the barbaric crimes committed by the Nazi dictatorship.
Taking this into account, one can get an idea of the historic significance and of the courage shown by Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer in signing the Elysée Treaty on 22 January 1963 in Paris, now 55 years ago.
The French general who led the fight against Germany during the war was one of the first to hold out his hand to German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who had never collaborated with the Nazi Regime.
It is as if the two statesmen accomplished an impossible dream and turned this almost “surreal” dream into reality. They opened an important historical chapter and their successors had to write the sequel after experiencing some temporary difficulties. And so the visionary founding fathers wrote a page of history proving: Centuries old enmity can give way to profound friendship.
The Elysée Treaty, unique in its kind, virtually united France and the Federal Republic of Germany “institutionally” together in a detailed agreement which existed nowhere else in the world.
Outlining the future of a Franco-German friendship, the Elysée Treaty is just under six pages long. The treaty stipulated that German and French government representatives should meet and speak with other at regular intervals.
In addition, all major decisions concerning security and defense policy were to be coordinated. Article II of the treaty stated, “the two governments will consult each other, prior to any decision, on all the important questions of foreign policy….”
This condition applied especially to any issues that had to do with the European Community, Nato and relations between Eastern and Western Europe.
In addition, Adenauer and de Gaulle also pledged close cooperation in the areas of culture and youth policy, with language exchange and learning to be encouraged, because young people are the key to our common future.
This decision resulted in the founding of the Franco-German Youth Office in the summer of 1963, the creation of Franco German high schools and the twinning between numerous French and German towns, schools and regions enabling millions of young German and French people to meet. Another result of the treaty was the Franco-German military brigade which was created in 1989.
The treaty did not include any specific requirements, nor did it define any political goals. In fact, the treaty, with its few paragraphs, was merely the blueprint for the Franco-German motor that would eventually drive Europe.
Step by Step, the treaty slowly began to come to life in the year after it was signed. In 1988, Chancellor Helmut Kohl and President François Mitterrand established an additional security and defense council, as well as a council for economic and fiscal policy.
Over the last 18 years there have been additional informal meetings between the Heads of State and Foreign Ministers, named after the first such summit that took place in the Frenchtown of Blaesheim in 2001.
All this would have been impossible, had our friendship not been based on a solid foundation of shared values. Both in our countries and in the international framework, we commit ourselves to freedom, tolerance, assistance to the weakest and cultural diversity. However, over the past 55 years Germany and France have sometimes held different positions when it came to resolving important issues of shared interest. But we have proven capable of understanding each other’s positions, and are ready to find mutually acceptable solutions.
For nearly 80 years, France and Germany have been at peace, and with them all of Europe. Within these years the Soviet Union broke up, the Cold War ended, Germany was reunited, the “Deutsche Mark” disappeared and the Euro was born.
Globalization has changed the world and China has become one of the most important powers.
Despite all the changes in the world and in Europe, which also entailed tensions in the German-French relationship, the cooperation in the framework of the Elysée Treaty as a basic pillar of the policies of the two countries was never seriously called into question.
The Friendship between Paris and Berlin is more demanding than any other on the continent. More than a half century later, the Elysée Treaty still forms a part of the Franco-German consultation process, though the contend of the discussions have changed dramatically. Therefore, more than ever Europe is at the center of our co-operation. The challenges we have to take up are huge. The tendency towards populism, nationalism and isolationism has increased worryingly during the last years, including the risk of EU erosion. We are countering this with the Franco-Germany commitment to Europe.
Our two societies and national cultures are very different and sometimes seem antagonistic. But our two countries are like communicating pipes, balancing the usual highs and lows and temporary crises of every serious relationship. We know that centuries of enmity can be replaced by friendship and peace between two peoples. This is the core message of the Elysée Treaty.
(The writers are Ambassador of France to Pakistan and Ambassador of Germany to Pakistan respectively)