An unexpected friendship

January 22,2019

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If you go back in history some 70 years, literally nobody would have expected the French and German peoples to live peacefully next to each other as friends and partners, having opened their borders to free circulation of people and goods and paying with the same currency.

The German-French reconciliation is simply a wonder considering the many bloody wars our ancestors fought against each other and the deep-rooted distrust that reigned for centuries between our populations. Our fathers and grandfathers were adversaries during the two world wars and it was only with our generation that a long process of normalisation in the German-French relations could commence. In fact, ‘normalisation’ is not the right term at all because at that time being at war was the normal state of affairs, and from a historic perspective the rapprochement of the two countries was an utter abnormality.

So it was only thanks to the wise and foresighted initiative of former French president Charles de Gaulle and former German chancellor Konrad Adenauer that our two peoples learnt to overcome hatred and enmity and got to know each other. The treaty of Elysée was the result of the efforts of the two politicians to bring together the French and German people. It was signed on January 22, 1963 as the first Franco-German treaty of friendship; therefore, we celebrate this day as the Franco-German day.

Our generation was born in the decade after the Second World War and we were the first to experience the early attempts of Franco-German friendship. Our schools formed partnerships with schools on the other side of the border. We started learning the language of the neighbour. We took part in students’ exchange programmes – and some of us even spent a semester or a year at a university in the neighbouring country. Back then, this was quite unusual and for our parents and grandparents quite difficult to understand: why should we have a pen friend in the country of the former hereditary enemy? Why should we visit the other side of the border and get in touch with the children of those people against whom our fathers fought during the war?

Luckily, this perception has changed. For the generation of our children, for the generation of our younger embassy staff, for German and French people in their mid-thirties, the friendship between our two countries is part of normal life in a unified Europe. If you live near the Franco-German border, it is part of your daily life to hop over to the other side of the border without having to wait for time-consuming border procedures and without even having to exchange the currency in case you want to order a French café au lait or a German Apfelstrudel in a café.

This does not mean that France and Germany should take the gift of their reconciliation for granted. On the contrary, it should be an incentive for us to continue to deepen our partnership and set new goals for the years to come. This is why our governments decided to sign a new treaty today, in Aachen on the 56th anniversary of the treaty of Elysée, and agreed on an update of our treaty of friendship.

The renovation of the Elysée Treaty aims to place Franco-German cooperation in a European framework and, above all, to enable it to face contemporary challenges. It is a roadmap to give the German and French populations the best conditions ever for a safe, clean, prosperous and socially fair future. In that purpose, the new treaty will comprise five substantive chapters.

Four of the pillars (first one being Europe) correspond to the major expectations shared by any modern country and society aspiring to a peaceful and sustainable fate: security and development, bringing together people, cross-border cooperation, and global challenges. In those fields, like on many others, the Franco-German reconciliation process can be inspirational for other region and states, relying on the most powerful asset we universally share: our people. The new treaty reflects the importance of the people as agents for deepening mutual understanding and rapprochement.

To revive the bonds between the French and German societies, our two countries have invested, since the beginning of the reconciliation process, deeply in their youth, with the innovative Franco-German Office for Youth as a main player. For countries with a highly young population, the youth is an unprecedented asset to help drive social and political norms, influence the modes of governance and counter hostile trends. For neighbouring countries, moving closer together in the field of education and research cooperation contributes to the empowerment of the youth. Deepening cooperation in those fields is precisely one of the aims of the Aachen treaty, with steps forward for the reciprocal recognition of school-level and professional qualifications.

The contribution of the communities of the borders has been highly valuable in the termination process of territorial disputes between Germany and France. The new treaty is renewing ways to foster encounters and exchanges for the people of the two countries, especially for the frontier inhabitants. To improve the everyday life of citizens in border regions, concrete and practical solutions are to be made available. Local actors will be given the opportunity to establish cross-border projects such as nurseries, education facilities, emergency and health services, and industrial estates.

Developing cross-border measures is an invaluable tool on that point; and facilitating border-crossing is always applauded as a significant step towards peace. The Kartarpur corridor is the latest example in the South Asian region. Germany and France continue to explore all the possible ways to give a new dynamic to cross-border cooperation, for example by making the space of Rhine and Moselle a laboratory of pragmatic solutions.

As legitimate representatives of the people, parliaments play a key role in the promotion of citizens’ needs, expectations and aspirations. A feature of the ongoing process between France and Germany is the strong parliamentary involvement on both sides. The (German) Bundestag and the National Assembly (French) have fully embraced the goal of revitalising the Franco-German relationship, especially in agreeing on the creation of a Franco-German Parliamentary Assembly – with 50 French members and 50 German members.

Along with this, national parliaments are expected to play an essential role in providing the policy measures needed to address the common challenges of a globalised world. Agreements in the fields of trade, climate, environment, health and sustainability are to be implemented swiftly, to enhance the competitiveness and viability of both economies. With its primary role in law-making, parliament is the best placed institution to influence policies and budgets and address the needs and concerns of its constituency.

Only operative and vibrant parliaments, independent of the executive branch, can bring such a critical contribution to the common destiny of their people, on the domestic or the transnational level.

Dr Marc Baréty is the ambassador of France to Pakistan.

Mr Martin Kobler is theambassador of the FederalRepublic of Germany to Pakistan.


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