Golden Anniversary – A Tale of Two Countries

Elysée PalacePhoto: fotopedia.com/Suzan Black

Elysée Palace
Photo: fotopedia.com/Suzan Black

This week, France and Germany celebrated the fifty-year anniversary of the Treaty of Elysée, signed on January 22, 1963. The treaty was a phenomenal accomplishment, as France overlooked Germany’s previous occupation of France and considered her neighbor to be a trustworthy ally. At the time of the agreement, president Charles de Gaulle (France) and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (Germany) spearheaded the initiative for the future of Franco-German relations. The need for an agreement was catalyzed by the burdensome legacy of World War II, and the treaty provided a vehicle in which to pursue amiable relations in Europe.

Europeans, at large, “rejoiced” when the treaty was first signed in the Palais de l’Elysée in Paris, according to Andreas Daum, professor at the University at Buffalo and author of the book Kennedy in Berlin. The German population was thrilled to have the chance to reinvent its image with the positive reinforcement of an ally, France. The French were inclined to like Adenauer, the German Chancellor, because he was actively pro-west and wary of the presence of extreme traditionalists in Germany. Both de Gaulle and Adenauer were proponents of European Unification, members of NATO, and understood the significance of this particular bilateral agreement. There were many commonalities between the two leaders, making the treaty a logical step in their post-World War relations. Paving the path for France and Germany’s mutual rise to European preeminence, the treaty ensured that they are both two of the strongest countries in Europe today.

The treaty’s promotion of Franco-German collaboration was not restricted to the political realm. It set up public institutions, including the Franco-German Youth Office and sister cities, high schools, and universities — such as the Franco-German University in Saarland, Germany. The treaty was founded upon five pillars; strategic and economic similarity between the two countries, a unique network of institutions and cooperation on a governmental level, transnational cooperation among civil societies and between public institutions, the resolution of differences through patient, bilateral compromise, and a balanced and co-led Franco-German relationship.

Inevitably, Franco-German relations have undergone some ups and downs during the past fifty years. As leadership shifted throughout the years, political climates fluctuated and policy differences oscillated, becoming more or less pronounced depending on who was currently in office. Nonetheless, on Monday night, current French president, Hollande, and the current German chancellor, Angela Merkel, met at a dinner to celebrate the golden anniversary milestone. Hollande and Merkel espouse policies that underscore their many political and personal differences. To highlight a few, Merkel is a member of the Christian Democratic Union, a center-right party, while Hollande is an active member of the Socialist party. Additionally, Merkel believes in the importance of the euro, but Hollande does not appear to consider it a priority. One of the biggest issues has been the conflict in Mali. Merkel supports French actions in the African state but will neither send German troops nor become entangled in the dispute.

Policy discrepancies notwithstanding, Hollande and Merkel have the potential to perpetuate the constructive relationship, born from the treaty of 1963. By the end of the night, the two had progressed from the formal “vous” form of address to the familiar “tu”, showing a greater level of comfort in their exchanges. Both were photographed partaking in the trademark European two-cheek kiss as well. Both leaders were pleased the friendship between both countries has stood strong to this day. The next fifty years will have more in store for the alliance, and Hollande and Merkel will help to shape its trajectory.

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