At a grand ceremony in Berlin on Tuesday, Germany and France celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty that sealed the alliance between the two former enemies after two world wars.
The continuing festivities in Berlin are focusing on the historic rapprochement between the two nations, and on their achievements -- the European single market, the European Union itself and the euro would have been unthinkable without the Franco-German alliance, still seen as the engine driving European integration.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande stressed their common values and hailed the importance of the partnership for Europe. They said they would bridge differences on the shape of Europe's currency union and present joint proposals for deeper economic and fiscal integration before a summit of EU leaders scheduled for June.
German media commentators said the relationship remains crucial for the Continent and noted that Merkel, a conservative, and her leftist Socialist Party counterpart Hollande, appear to be getting along better now after an uneasy start last May, when newly elected Hollande vowed to reverse German-backed austerity policies.
Newspaper editorials said the speeches hailing the friendship between the two nations masked deep rifts in core areas such as the euro crisis in addition to foreign and security policy. But, the commentators added, those differences have always existed, and that European integration has always made most progress when Germany and France have been open about what divides them -- and then reached a compromise.
"Amid all the grand and in some cases moving speeches marking the German-French anniversary, one observation of real political significance stood out: the two do get on after all. The chancellor and the president have reached a significant agreement. They will work out proposals by May for a reform of the euro group, and they will present an agreed package of reforms to the European Council, the powerful EU body comprised of the 27 leaders of the EU member states, in June. That means: If Germany and France agree on a reform, then Europe will get this reform. After months of irritation and mistrust, this is the first sign that the countries will move forward with a better coordinated economic policy, with budgetary control and with efforts to boost competitiveness."
Conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"The impressive range of events and speeches befitted the significance of the day. A treaty was celebrated that was agreed 50 years ago and which put the German-French relationship on a new foundation: centuries of enmity were replaced by a friendship established in peace between two peoples whose governments cooperate ever more closely."
"The cooperation in the framework of the Élysée Treaty as a basic pillar of the policies of the two countries was never seriously called into question -- despite all the changes in the world and in Europe, which also entailed tensions in the German-French relationship."
"The coming weeks and months will show whether the words of this day will be followed with deeds, whether for example the German-French initiative can lead to the resolution of the budget dispute in the EU. The chancellor welcomed the military intervention in Mali because France was acting in the European interest there, she said. But if the conflict becomes drawn-out, Paris may soon require more material support. Germany should then be prepared for that."
Conservative Die Welt writes:
"Historians would say that a further 50 years are needed to truly free both countries of the shadows of the past. But relations between France and Germany are already governed by normality. Normality means the capacity to criticize, and that happens to be sobering."
"Of course the two societies and national cultures are very different and in parts seem antagonistic, but our two countries are like communicating pipes. Friendship is a big word, however. What is meant in historical terms is the absence of hostility, enmity and war. Today we experience a form of competition which in part also means nonchalance, even indifference. To have managed that is a great historic achievement: by politicians but especially by the two peoples, who show real interest in each other."
"One day after the Élysée celebrations, David Cameron will hold his Europe speech. The skepticism of the British, their non-conformity and their liberalism were always a driving force for Europe. Nothing is final. We need a German-British axis today. From now on the focus must no longer be on the past, but on the future of the continent."
Left-wing Berliner Zeitung writes:
"Much has been said and written about German-French similarities. A lot of rubbish. In truth, the German-French friendship thrives on the huge differences between the two countrieis. They have always needed to make a tremendous effort to reach an agreement. And whenever the two countries mustered the will to do so, Europe made progress."
"Paris has provided an impressive reminder in recent days of how necessary it is to make this effort once again. The French military intervention in Mali doesn't just show how fundamentally the Germans and French differ in their attitude towards war, it also shows that they urgently need to agree."
"Germany and France could comfortably live side by side for many years if -- yes if! -- reality didn't get in the way. There are situations that require military intervention. The spread of terrorist organizations in the Sahel region is one of them: Anyone who doubts that should take a look at the dreadful hostage-taking in Algeria."
Europe finally needs to pool its military resources and arrive at a common military strategy, the newspaper writes. To that end, the continent needs "the political will to launch a public debate to arrive at a common approach on what is strategically necessary. If Germany and France managed this difficult task, most of the other countries of Europe could presumably join. True, such a radical plan doesn't fit in with the political reality of Europe and Germany. But who could have imagined 50 years ago that German-French reconciliation would actually work?"
In an editorial published in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, which was produced together by that newspaper and the staff of Paris-based Le Monde, the French newspaper's editorial director and respected intellectual Sylvie Kauffmann, wrote on Monday:
"Merkel and Holland don't have any great sympathy for each other. Times are hard -- and the euro crisis has left its mark. But so what? Merkel and Holland aren't Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle; not even Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand. And 2013 isn't 1963. Between those years, the world, including France and Germany, has undergone a few upheavals. The Soviet Union broke up, the Cold War ended, Germany is reunited. The deutsche mark disappeared and the euro was born. Globalization has changed the world and China has become its second biggest economic power."
"In the globalized world, Germany has greater weight than France. But in Washington or Beijing, it is not to the Franco-German pair that they look, but to the EU as a whole. And if you look at a map of the EU from afar, Germany is the biggest blot. That's the reality in 2013. Despite this, there is no substitute for the Franco-German duo, former French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine said -- neither in the form of a Franco-British tandem or a German-Polish one. If Europe is to advance, then Germany and France are condemned to get along with one another. They are two very different countries, but that is also the idea behind creating a treaty for their indispensable partnership because it obligates them to create the framework within they are compelled to work together."
"It may be that this partnership is sometimes difficult to maintain, but it is also undignified to exhibit these differences too publicly. In any case, the people of these countries have learned to live and work together. Sometimes they even create newspapers together."
-- David Crossland
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