Angela Merkel pledges to fill new Franco-German treaty ‘with life’

Move to revive motor at heart of EU project

 German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron talk with German and French citizens after signing the Aachen Treaty in  Germany. The treaty is meant to deepen co-operation between the countries as a means to also strengthen the European Union. Photograph: Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images

German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron talk with German and French citizens after signing the Aachen Treaty in Germany. The treaty is meant to deepen co-operation between the countries as a means to also strengthen the European Union. Photograph: Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images

 

France and Germany have signed a new treaty they say will boost bilateral co-operation and provide added stability to a continent experiencing a rise of nationalist, populist politics.

Four months before the European Parliament elections, and 16 months after French president Emmanuel Macron’s ambitious EU reform proposals at the Sorbonne, Tuesday’s response was as much about symbolism as content.

“Some 74 years after the end of the second World War, a human lifetime, what seems self-evident is being called into question,” said chancellor Angela Merkel, in a nod to new populist challengers on Europe’s political fringes.

The Treaty of Aachen, signed in the German border city by Dr Merkel and Mr Macron, was billed a renewal of marital vows on the 56th birthday of the Élysée treaty underpinning modern bilateral relations.

The document, aimed at reviving the Franco-German “motor” at the heart of the EU project, foresees closer EU policy consultation “at all levels” of government; creation of a new cross-border economic zone and economic expert body; closer co-operation on health and electro-mobility; joint rules for arms exports; and mutual recognition of each others’ school-leaving certificates.

‘Spreading lies’

Mr Macron accused populists at home of “spreading lies” for suggesting that his efforts to assist Berlin in securing a permanent UN Security Council seat was a sell-out of French interests to Germany.

“Those who forget the value of French-German reconciliation are making themselves accomplices of the crimes of the past,” he said.

After a long history as sworn enemies and a century fighting two devastating world wars on opposite sides, modern Franco-German relations have no shortage of aspirational documents, promising greater efforts to boost cross-border exchanges, mutual language learning and advance business ties.

But many vanish without trace after signing, squeezed by competing political agendas and models of French centralism versus German federalism.

Mr Macron’s 2017 Sorbonne speech sparked ambitious proposals by the French and German parliaments: a common minimum wage; a common corporate tax base; a European innovation agency and a competence transfer back to their border region.

The treaty contains some, not all, of these proposals, but in loose language and limited commitment.

Window has closed

Pessimists suggest the window has closed for meaningful political co-operation between Mr Macron, under pressure from domestic street protests, and Dr Merkel, who no longer heads her political party.

Wolfgang Schäuble, the Bundestag president and number two in Germany’s political pecking order, has made no secret of feeling duped by the political leaders and their Aachen event.

For months German MPs and their French counterparts have been working on proposals to boost co-operation, including a new committee with 50 MPs each, meeting twice a year.

Parliaments agreed last autumn to sign their agreement on Tuesday. Then, two weeks ago, Dr Schäuble was informed of the Merkel-Macron event in Aachen on the same day. Aware of the criticism of the Aachen Treaty, Dr Merkel promised to “really fill it with life”.

“We will do this,” she said, “with full energy and all of our heart”.