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A symbol of the importance of Franco-German relations

On the very day he took office, France’s new President François Hollande visited Berlin. He was in full agreement with Chancellor Angela Merkel that Franco-German cooperation remains crucially important for the future of Europe.

"We are delighted that François Hollande has come to Germany on the day of his appointment," declared the Chancellor. It was not only an opportunity for the two leaders to become acquainted. They also discussed key items on the European and international agenda.

The focus was on developments in the euro zone in general and in Greece in particular, but they also took time to touch on the future of Franco-German relations, almost fifty years after the Elysée Treaty was signed.

Germany and France – relations for the 21st century

The Chancellor reported that they agreed that it would be appropriate to make use of the coming anniversary of the signing of the Elysée Treaty to further develop Franco-German relations for the 21st century. Angela Merkel invited François Hollande to an anniversary council of ministers to be held in Berlin in January 2013. The two parliaments too will mark the anniversary with special celebrations.

The Elysée Treaty on Franco-German cooperation was signed on 22 January 1963. It sealed the reconciliation of the French and German peoples and became a cornerstone of further European integration. In a brief joint declaration the then Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and French President Charles de Gaulle stated that the objectives of the treaty were to symbolically seal Franco-German reconciliation, to found a genuine friendship between the two peoples, especially among the younger generation, and to promote the establishment of a "united Europe …, which is the goal of both our peoples". Today the treaty is still the basis on which France and Germany build their unique bilateral cooperation.

Before then though, there is a lot of work to be done, "We are well aware of our responsibility for the positive development of Europe," declared Angela Merkel. The two leaders have agreed to cooperate closely in the weeks and months to come on preparing decisions to be taken at European level.

Measures to strengthen growth on the agenda

The Chancellor pointed to the fiscal pact signed in March. It is to help put in place sound budgets in Europe. For some months now measures to boost growth in Europe have also been discussed. It is important that all sides have the opportunity to present their proposals.

The French President left no doubt that he believes it very important that all possible options for fostering growth in Europe are discussed at the next two meetings of the European Council on 23 May and 28 June. He agreed with the Chancellor that more than lip service to growth is needed – the people must feel the difference.

Greece should remain in the euro zone

"We would like to see Greece remain in the euro zone". This was the unambiguous opinion of both sides in view of the announcement that new elections are to be held in Greece after the country’s failure to form a government. The Chancellor pointed out that she has always assured her Greek opposite numbers of support in their efforts to master the crisis. The Greeks must, however, meet their commitments. They will also be voting on the agreed memorandum.

Angela Merkel and François Hollande stressed that they respect the Greek decision to hold new elections, and that they hope that the outcome will be a reaffirmation of commitment to the euro. François Hollande suggested that additional pro-growth measures be undertaken to support developments. The Chancellor agreed that additional options for fostering growth should be explored.

Cooperation for the good of Europe

Angela Merkel and François Hollande were relaxed in the face of questions about possible differences in their political convictions. Both pointed out that Franco-German relations over the decades have often been marked by political differences, but have nevertheless always been constructive, and that the two countries have always cooperated for the good of Europe.

The common currency in particular has spawned a sort of European domestic policy, underscored the Chancellor. The fact that leaders come from different parts of the political spectrum does not mean that they cannot work well together and identify good solutions. This is the experience we have gained in Europe.

François Hollande declared that his visit was intended to underline the fact that he sees the concept of friendship between the French and the Germans as a great responsibility to respect both one another and partners. Franco-German relations are a constant for every French president, he added.

The Chancellor too stressed the importance of cooperation. There will be common ground, but equally there will be differences. The two sides will discuss their different ideas, she said. This can be a great enrichment. “I am very much looking forward to our cooperation,” declared the Chancellor.

One international commitment follows another over the next few weeks. The Chancellor and the new French President will be seeing one another again this week at the G8 summit meeting in Camp David and at the NATO summit in Chicago. On 23 May at the informal European Council summit the first discussions at European level will take place. This will be followed at the end of June by the regular meeting of the European Council. In between times the G20 will be meeting on 18 and 19 June in Mexico.

May 15, 2012