Without the Franco-German "motor," the European machine would grind to a halt. This suits Chirac just fine, but Germany's next chancellor sees it as a major problemby Tim King / September 25, 2005 / Leave a comment
When Angela Merkel visited Paris in July, the French press were interested in only one thing: if she won the election in September, would the Franco-German “motor” survive? To some, even in Germany, the idea of the motor may seem abstract, but to many French the alliance is essential to their vision of Europe.
In the aftermath of the second world war, France distrusted Germany, keeping her weak, working with Britain at an anti-German alliance. But as the years went by, it became clear that Britain would not give up the special relationship with America, so France had to look elsewhere to make a stronger Europe: “The prospect of German values combined with French values is dazzling,” said De Gaulle. “In a modern economic, social, strategic manner it would pick up the threads of the enterprise begun by Charlemagne.”
But first the French had to be reconciled with the people who had invaded them three times in 70 years: “My grandfather’s generation hated the Germans,” my deputé Jacques Godfrain told me. “Salauds de boches: the German was a savage, a monster.” The first step towards reconciliation was not political but, heavy with symbolism, mass in Reims Cathedral, De Gaulle standing shoulder to shoulder with Adenauer, in 1962. The effect on France was electric. Two months later, De Gaulle and Adenauer discussed political rapprochement in Paris. Finally, in January 1963, the Elysée treaty created formal bonds between the two former enemies – bonds which were to become the notorious motor.
The Elysée treaty has had practical benefits – principally for France. German machine tools helped French industry produce world-class cars, trains and aeroplanes, while British equivalents sank. Airbus was first of all a Franco-German consortium. EADS has French and German joint chairmen and joint CEOs. During the 1970s and 1980s, the French grew strong on the back of German industrial might, enabling them to create their Europe, while the Germans gained influence and legitimacy from French diplomacy.
Aware that reconciliation needs symbols, French and German leaders have made regular public displays of closeness: De Gaulle and Adenauer, Giscard and Schmidt, Mitterrand and Köhl, now Chirac and Schröder. 22 years after the mass at Reims, President Mitterrand dug into the French psyche: during a service commemorating the 70th anniversary of the battle Verdun, icon of French memory, he held hands with Chancellor Köhl. This was a simple gesture, but resonated deeply…