Élysée pact anniversary marked
Meeting on the 50th anniversary of the pact sealing their post-war reconciliation, the leaders of Germany and France vowed yesterday to bridge differences on the shape of Europe’s currency union and unveil joint proposals on deeper integration within months.
Conservative German chancellor Angela Merkel and French socialist president François Hollande have had an uneasy relationship since he swept into office eight months ago vowing to reverse German-backed austerity policies designed to shore up the crisis-hit euro zone.
But the two leaders, born less than a month apart in the summer of 1954, stressed their common values and hailed the importance of the Franco-German partnership after centuries of conflict that culminated in two world wars.
“The young people of our countries have the great fortune to have never known anything but peace and democracy,” said Mr Hollande, speaking in the Reichstag building in Berlin to a joint session of the federal German and French parliaments, respectively the Bundestag and the National Assembly. But he added that the youth now faced “an economic and social crisis of unprecedented duration”, requiring common efforts to boost economic output and create jobs.
Dr Merkel, speaking earlier at a joint news conference with Mr Hollande, said the leaders would tackle one of the most divisive issues between the two countries – deeper economic and fiscal integration – and present joint proposals before a summit of EU leaders scheduled for June.
She also said she would support a French candidate to run the new European bank supervision body that is to become operational next year, under the umbrella of the European Central Bank.
But Berlin and Paris have starkly different visions of what a closer currency union should look like, with Dr Merkel favouring tighter central controls over budgets and Mr Hollande seeking more solidarity, in the form of a big euro zone budget to deal with economic shocks.
The Treaty of Friendship signed at the Élysée Palace in Paris in 1963 buried the hatchet almost two decades after the second World War ended.
Perhaps the most powerful image of reconciliation came in 1984 when Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand held each other by the hand at the site of the Battle of Verdun, where 700,000 of their countrymen died in the first World War.
They went on to lay the foundations of Europe’s economic and monetary union.
“It has not escaped you that we do not belong to the same political family. Despite that, if you look back at the past eight months, I’m very happy with what France and Germany have been able to accomplish to get the euro zone out of its crisis,” the French leader said.
Dr Merkel, who refused to meet with Hollande during last year’s French election campaign while openly supporting his conservative opponent Nicolas Sarkozy, said: “It may be our best-kept secret that the chemistry actually works.” – (Reuters)