'Enough Sauerkraut and Beer': France and Germany Celebrate 50 Years of Friendship
Part 2: 'Europe Cannot Be Tripping over Itself while Taking Baby Steps'
SPIEGEL: Is France capable of making similar sweeping changes today?
Delors: It has to be. A country can no longer be ruled with vanity. Political and psychological "war games" with Germany don't get us anywhere. The time to be arrogant is over, and everyone needs to step away from his own bit of pride. Both governments have to jointly ensure that their nations do not turn away from Europe, and not to give the other EU countries, especially those that are not members of the Euro Group, the feeling that they are traveling in a second-class car at the back of the train.
Fischer: Adenauer and de Gaulle didn't care about opinion polls. They had an historic vision. My god, what tremendous figures they were! Why are today's leaders incapable of looking that far into the future and drumming up enthusiasm for their visions? When others in the world are taking big steps forward, Europe cannot be tripping over itself while taking baby steps.
SPIEGEL: Angela Merkel has now called for a political union for Europe, following the economic and monetary union, to which the French take a more reserved approach. What do you think?
Fischer: I agree with Merkel. And I too would like to see a new treaty, but the prospect of achieving it with the 27 EU member states is an illusion for the foreseeable future. In fact, it would be dangerous at the moment, because it might lead to referendums in several countries. We need inter-governmental agreements based on the Schengen model as an interim solution.
Delors: The euro zone is incomplete. I say to the French: You don't want to give up any sovereignty? But you just surrendered some of it implicitly with the fiscal pact. What we have now isn't enough to efficiently govern the euro zone. The French have to understand that they are sitting at the table with the others and making joint decisions.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Fischer, in a much-noticed speech you gave 13 years ago, you said that wanted to see a "United States of Europe" become a reality. Do you still believe in that?
Fischer: Yes. What else should there be? I like the term, because it's provocative. Of course we're not the United States of America. Our countries have an ancient history, which is what makes them strong. But we have made a great deal of progress. Nowadays, Germany and France and all the others are only pursuing an autonomous national policy to a limited extent. The leaders of the Euro Group are already effectively Europe's economic government today. That's a phenomenal step forward.
Delors: I've always been interested in the question of how a union can be created in diversity. I never believed that the nations would disappear. There is a sense of belonging to one's own nation that only grows stronger with globalization. Populist movements are getting stronger, even in such a fervently European country as the Netherlands. I envision a federation of nations in which decisions are reached with a qualified majority. To me, that seems to be the preferable method, as compared with the European Council negotiating exhausting compromises during long nights of negotiation.
Fischer: We don't have to become closer to each other by becoming identical. Just look at Switzerland, where you have people speaking German, French and Italian. They haven't changed in terms of their cultural identity. Europe doesn't mean that we'll become a melting pot. The Germans will remain German and the French will remain French. Vive la différence, within the framework of shared sovereignty!
SPIEGEL: The two sides had different ulterior motives in signing the Elysée Treaty: Adenauer wanted to tie Germany to the West, while de Gaulle wanted to form a bloc against the United States and Great Britain. Haven't such different goals shaped the relationship for decades?
Fischer: It shows you how irrelevant such ulterior motives are. The Elysée Treaty is a perfect example. It facilitated the Franco-German reconciliation on which the structure of Europe was built. A few years ago, I asked Bruno Le Maire, the then French secretary of state for European affairs: When you and other members of the administration talk about Germans, what annoys you the most about us? He replied: You always want to decide everything. I burst out laughing and said: That's exactly how we feel about the French! There's a great deal of truth to that. It will never change, and it doesn't have to. If the Franco-German relationship works, it's precisely because it's characterized by this charged sense of being different, which can then lead to very productive compromises.
Delors: Friendship can't be a sentimental veil that leads our fellow citizens to believe that we are making progress. I've seen it all too often, how a German chancellor and a French president try to make the people believe there's this great friendship between them. But true friendship also includes room for differences, which we must accept. After all, we can't have the same pension system if the population develops more dynamically in one country than in the other. We're not going to make everything the same. But there is too little interaction between our countries. We must pay closer attention to our criticism of each other.
SPIEGEL: Are you advocating putting an end to hypocrisy?
Delors: I would like to see this week's celebration not descend into sentimentality. Enough with the embraces, the sauerkraut and drinking beer together. I prefer to see Merkel and Hollande publicly speak their minds. I would hope to hear both of them saying reasonable things at the celebration. They should point out how to do things better in the future. But most of all, we cannot forget the other countries, as was the case in the last three years. Franco-German cooperation is necessary, but that alone isn't enough.
Fischer: The Elysée Treaty has shaped reality, and we should certainly celebrate it. But I was an altar boy as a child. It was very moving when we celebrated mass and the Te Deum was sung. Aside from that, our knees and our backs hurt, and it was incredibly boring, especially the sermons. That's why I don't have overly high expectations for the ceremony. But I do have very high expectations for the future when it comes to everyday interactions between the two countries.
Delors: As a Catholic, I can say to you: A High Mass without faith is pointless.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Delors, Mr. Fischer, we thank you for this interview.
Interview conducted by Romain Leick and Matthieu von Rohr.
- Part 1: France and Germany Celebrate 50 Years of Friendship
- Part 2: 'Europe Cannot Be Tripping over Itself while Taking Baby Steps'
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