60 years of Franco-German friendship


By Léa C. Glasmeyer, Core Writers’ Group

“For a Frenchman to talk about Germany is to talk about a part of himself”, French President Emmanuel Macron said during the recent celebrations of 60 years of Franco-German friendship at the Sorbonne University in Paris in January 2023. However, the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 drastically changed the European security architecture and prompted a redefinition of German foreign and security policy. What does German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’ “Zeitenwende” represent for Franco-German relations and how are the two countries cooperating 60 years after the ratification of the Élysée Treaty? After months of hesitation, Macron and Scholz have tried on the occasion of this anniversary to revive a relationship that has been facing many challenges since the beginning of the war in Ukraine.

From the Élysée Treaty to the War in Ukraine

On 22 February 1963, French President Charles de Gaulle and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer signed the Élysé treaty, which became one of the most important steps towards reconciliation between France and Germany, as well as an essential motor for European integration. Only 18 years after the end of World War II, the two former “hereditary enemies” agreed to cooperate and consult each other on their respective foreign, European, and defense policies, in order to work on common solutions. While Adenauer sought to anchor Germany in the West, De Gaulle, on the other hand, hoped to prevent an alliance between Germany, the US, and Great Britain that may potentially turn against France. Passed by both the Assemblée Nationale and the Bundestag, the Treaty obtained the rank of binding law, encompassing government consultations and later regular joint ministerial councils.

The Treaty also served to deepen cooperation in education and youth, resulting in the establishment of the Office Franco-Allemand de la Jeunesse (OFAJ) which has continued developing and promoting exchanges between France and Germany. Altogether, the Treaty contributes to an overall more profound synergy between the two countries by aggregating their respective interests, thereby contributing to fostering European integration. In 2019, the Élysée Treaty was supplemented by the Treaty of Aachen, which strengthened the Franco-German cooperation further by deepening economic integration and promoting civil society partnerships. Altogether, important exchanges have been implemented over the years, not least with a joint response to the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act, urging for increased subsidies for EU industries and relaxed state aid rules.

While the Aachen Treaty’s technical nature contrasts with its symbolic significance that gave rise to a shared narrative, the lofty myths and glorified images have often masked simmering tensions emerging from both countries’ different economic interests and strategic self-images. Tensions have, with the recent geopolitical upheavals, been increasingly apparent.

Relations between the two countries seem to have cooled since Olaf Scholz took office over a year ago, although first perceived as a new opportunity since the 16 years of Angela Merkel at the helm. While the 60th anniversary took place at Sorbonne University, symbolically having Scholz there to endorse the speech that Merkel had never responded to in 2017, concrete solutions remained rather disappointing. Nonetheless, the Franco-German motor remains necessary, if no longer a sufficient condition for EU-wide progress. While courageous decisions have enabled both peace and European integration, current crises, nationalist-populist movements, a divided electorate, and a lack of civil interest in a European community threaten to shake this cooperation. Moreover, the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine has further contributed to deteriorating the conditions for a Franco-German leadership role in Europe by exacerbating discrepancies. Not only did the German government oppose a European gas price cap, but it also introduced a 200 billion program to cushion high energy costs in Germany, prompting harsh French reactions, with Macron accusing Germany of isolating itself. Finally, the joint Cabinet meeting between the two governments, initially scheduled for October 2022, had to eventually be postponed due to enduring disagreements.

60 Years of Cooperation — Between Tensions and Friendship

In this regard, the war is a reminder that it is incumbent on the current generation to secure the common dream of a united Europe, reviving the strategic goal of European sovereignty. While Paris and Berlin have diverging understandings of how such sovereignty should look, both countries are nonetheless committed to strengthening it. Indeed, while France seeks to reinforce European autonomy in security and defense, Germany rather leans towards a fortified NATO. However, both countries agreed in January in a joint statement that Europe should have the capacity to shape the international order while upholding the principles of the charter of the United Nations. A goal that may succeed by improving and investing in defense capabilities as well as by fostering transatlantic relations. A goal that also entails a Europe that is resilient, strong, and sovereign — a Europe in which individual liberties, the rule of law, and democratic participation are guaranteed.

Accordingly, Europe must remain an anchor of stability, not least through cooperation with the Western Balkans, primarily working on their prospective EU memberships. A goal that will only be achieved through consistent and continuous Franco-German cooperation. While France has been trying to diversify its partnerships, signing friendship treaties with Italy and Spain, it should rather focus on conjointly looking towards Eastern Europe. But it also needs to get rid of its image of a Gaullist country that is still always putting its own interest first.

In his speech for the 60th anniversary of the Treaty, Chancellor Scholz described the Franco-German axis as the “locomotive of a united Europe”, a machine of compromises, while Macron announced his wish to make Berlin and Paris “the pioneers for the refoundation of our Europe”. Both heads of state reiterated the need for military cooperation and support for Ukraine, insisting on the need to decide collectively on sending heavy tanks, while pledging to support Ukraine “as long as necessary”. Macron and Scholz also discussed joint developments for industry, calling for an “ambitious and rapid” European plan. These strong statements were followed by several concrete projects, such as the creation of a bi-national train ticket or the extension of the European hydrogen pipeline project H2Med to German territory. The launch of the Future Combat Air System FCAS, initiated by Germany and France as well as the European Sky Shield Initiative ESSI signed in October 2022 are important steps in this regard. Altogether, both countries stressed the need to find common solutions for today’s and tomorrow’s challenges — from energy security to climate change and social inequalities.

Between Zeitenwende and new convergences: the way ahead

Over the last year, Germany has repositioned itself in the face of new challenges — emerging particularly with the onset of the Russia-Ukraine war — and the resulting new geopolitical order. With Scholz’s “Zeitenwende”, Germany is suddenly taking a clear stance while overcoming long-established security restraints, agreeing to support renewals at the EU level that had already been announced by Macron in his Sorbonne speech in 2017, where he called for the Élysée Treaty to be forged anew: the support of the European Rapid Deployment Capacity, the expansion of the European Peace Facility, and a stronger commitment to the Strategic Compass for security and defence. Furthermore, new harmonization rules for arms exports will be required, for which a Franco-German export control framework has to be created in order to give defense companies planning security for joint projects.

Recent economic developments have also put both countries and their respective economic models to the test. France is thus now trying to pursue its traditional interventionism in order to shield its domestic economy from adverse global conditions at the EU-level, such as China’s state capitalism and the growing US protectionism. At the same time, because more than half of Germany’s exports go to the European market — encompassing France — both countries should concentrate on formulating coordinated economic policy reforms by using joint synergies in the promotion of the green transformation of the economy and the reduction of dependencies on raw material imports.

The two countries should equally deepen their cooperation in access to space, a domain in which the EU is falling behind. Not only does space represent an increasingly important role in economic terms, but its relevance for military capabilities is also equally growing. Space, therefore, represents an industry that relies on Franco-German collaboration and support for its future success. A success that necessitates a clear and conjoint vision of what the European space industry should look like. Moreover, the new European Tech Champions Initiative launched on 13 February 2023 by both governments to scale up initiatives for facilitating access to venture capital for startups is an important step that should be filled with life over the next few years. Lastly, both governments should seek a common energy policy despite their fundamental divergences on nuclear power, in order to reach a carbon-neutral economy — through joint investments, the expansion of renewable energies, and cooperation in the field of energy.

The anniversary has been a moment of consultations and promises for a united Europe with a leading Franco-German role. The Franco-German partnership will not only face important challenges in the ecological transition or the industrial policy but will also be marked by new convergences in the protection of oceans and of the rule of law, migration, and bolstering of European institutions. Altogether, while further European integration is needed, notably with regard to the East, and while this integration is not necessarily mainly driven by economic factors anymore, but rather by security concerns, European cooperation nonetheless works well in times of crises. In these new times of war, the Franco-German friendship is still as necessary as it used to be 60 years ago in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Léa C. Glasmeyer is part of the European Horizons Core Writer’s team. She holds a Master of Public Policy from the Hertie School in Berlin and the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy from the University of Toronto, as well as a Franco-German BA from Sciences Po Aix and the University of Freiburg. She is part of Netzwerk F, an intersectional network for the promotion of a feminist foreign policy, and a member of the Diverse Young Leaders initiative, where she aims at bringing young people with migration biographies closer to politics. Passionate about theatre and literature, Léa is also a fervent European citizen and particularly interested in democracy and the rule of law.



The European Horizons Editorial Board
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