France and Germany renew postwar vows of friendship
France and Germany are to renew their vows of postwar friendship, aiming to show that the motor that has traditionally powered the EU project remains strong as nationalist and populist parties advance across the continent.
President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel will sign the update to the 1963 Elysée treaty on Tuesday in the German border city of Aachen, residence of Charlemagne, the “father of Europe” who managed to unite much of western Europe in the ninth century.
“Both states will deepen their cooperation in foreign affairs, defence, external and internal security and development and at the same time work on strengthening the ability of Europe to act independently,” the treaty text states.
As the EU comes under unprecedented pressure from Brexit, Donald Trump and increasingly strident nationalist governments in Italy, Poland and Hungary, both Merkel and Macron are eager to limit the gains eurosceptic parties are expected to make in European parliamentary elections in May.
The text has been criticised by their domestic opponents in France and Germany both as going too far and not far enough, and dismissed by eurosceptics abroad as a largely empty gesture by two significantly weakened leaders.
The text provides for closer security cooperation, with the two countries pledging to come to each other’s defence in case of military attack, create a joint defence and security council and harmonise their rules for military equipment exports.
It also promises a commitment to economic convergence, aiming to form “a German-French economic area with common rules”, set up a panel of experts to give economic recommendations to each government and boost research cooperation in the digital economy and renewable energies.
Finally, the treaty seeks to strengthen concrete ties across the 280-mile Franco-German border, supporting city partnerships and bi-national initiatives in culture, health, transport and language-learning, with some cross-border regions to be granted greater autonomy to cut through rules and red tape.
Macron came to power in May 2017 promising to win Merkel’s backing for major EU reform in an effort to restore confidence in the European project, but has made little progress, partly because the chancellor was herself weakened by poor election results.
Merkel has since announced she will step down as chancellor in 2021. The French president, meanwhile, has come under fierce domestic pressure in the form of the anti-establishment, grassroots gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protest movement and plummeting approval ratings.
Both France’s far right and far left have attacked the treaty for selling out national sovereignty, spawning a raft of conspiracy theories including the claim that Macron plans to cede control of Alsace and Lorraine, partially annexed by Germany in 1871 and returned to France after the first world war.
Other false rumours circulating online include the rumour that France aims to share its permanent seat on the UN security council with Germany, part of broader accusations that the centrist president – as the far-right leader Marine Le Pen alleged – is determined to “dismantle the power of our country”.
In Germany, Alexander Gauland of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) said it was “inappropriate for this failing president to impose visions on us for the future of Germany”. The EU was deeply divided, Gauland added. “A German-French special relationship will alienate us even further from other Europeans.”
Abroad, eurosceptic leaders have been similarly critical. Italy’s far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, said earlier this month that he intends to challenge Merkel and Macron’s pro-European message and the whole idea of a “Franco-German motor”, with a eurosceptic “Italian-Polish axis”.