Skip to main content

Europe's future depends on Franco-German unity

By Agnes Poirier, Special to CNN
January 24, 2013 -- Updated 1508 GMT (2308 HKT)
  • It is 50 years since the leaders of France and Germany signed the Elysée Treaty
  • French and German politicians gathered in Berlin Monday to celebrate the anniversary
  • Agnes Poirier describes France and Germany as the European Union's locomotive
  • Europe's future depends on their unity of purpose and action, Poirier says

Editor's note: Agnes Poirier is a French journalist and political analyst who contributes regularly to newspapers, magazines and TV in the UK, U.S., France, Italy. Follow @AgnesCPoirier on Twitter.

Paris (CNN) -- France and Germany have just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty in Berlin. Even British Prime Minister David Cameron had to respect this most symbolic date and wait another 24 hours before delivering his long-awaited speech on Europe.

In 2003, for the Elysée Treaty's 40th anniversary, Jacques Chirac had lavishly received Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, and the whole of the Bundestag to Versailles. In his speech, the French president had invoked Goethe, Hugo and of course Charles de Gaulle and Adenauer, the founders of the Franco-German rapprochement in 1963.

Agnes Poirier
Agnes Poirier

This year, Berlin was hosting the celebrations with a Bundestag bursting at the seams, having had to add 577 extra seats to accommodate the whole of the French National Assembly. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande gave a common press conference, met with students, answered their questions and went for lunch.

Some in the press corps, like Ian Traynor, The Guardian's Brussels correspondent, complained about the food and tweeted a picture of the menu: beetroot, red cabbage and red berries, prompting the all too predictable comment: "why didn't they let the French do the cooking?"

Opinion: Why Hollande must show clearer leadership

There was pomp, emotion and comedy. As Hollande made its way into a packed Reichstag for his speech, he missed a step. A broken leg would have sent the wrong message. Luckily, the president didn't fall. A few moments later, when the first notes of the Marseillaise started filling the Reichstag for the first time in the building's dramatic history, even French MPs held their breath and eyes got misty.

French President Francois Hollande stumbles as he arrives at the Reichstag with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
French President Francois Hollande stumbles as he arrives at the Reichstag with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

For the Elysée Treaty has no comparison in contemporary history: it still, to this day, offers a unique model of reconciliation between two states. France and Germany enjoy joint cabinet meetings and political partnerships at all levels. Both countries have gone from hereditary hatred, to hereditary friendship. And this is no small accomplishment in light of the three wars France and Germany waged against each other from 1870 to 1945.

As Thomas Klau from think-tank ECFR (European Council of Foreign relations) put it: "The Elysée Treaty is to France and Germany what the Bible is to the church, even if people don't read it every day."

With a combined total of 40% of the eurozone GDP, 33% of the entire EU's population and 31% of its budget, France and Germany are the locomotive of the European Union and remain so even when their respective heads of state are at odds.

It always takes a French president and a German chancellor a couple of years to get along well. Mitterrand-Kohl, Chirac-Schröder, Sarkozy-Merkel, even when they both belonged to the same political family, took time to work together. But when there is a spark and personal chemistry between the two leaders, this means progress for the whole continent.

During intermediary phases when they are getting to know each other -- like today, with a social democrat Hollande and a conservative Merkel -- progress is slow. Nowhere better than in Brussels is this more obvious. And it is especially damaging in time of a crisis such as the one we're living.

This is why France and Germany have no choice but to find a compromise or there could be consequences for the European project. France thinks financial solidarity should precede political integration, Germany suggest the opposite. No doubt the markets and their 25 European partners in the union will soon remind them to come up with a common view.

At this time more than ever -- in the week that Cameron has promised Britain a referendum on its EU membership -- Europe's future depends on Franco-German unity of purpose and action.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Agnes Poirier.

Part of complete coverage on
August 27, 2013 -- Updated 1943 GMT (0343 HKT)
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble says the eurozone's problems are not solved, but "we are in a much better shape than we used to be some years ago."
September 4, 2013 -- Updated 1528 GMT (2328 HKT)
The G20 is held in Russia but, amid disagreements over Syria, can anything be done? John Defterios investigates.
July 10, 2013 -- Updated 1502 GMT (2302 HKT)
Summer could not have come soon enough for Lloret de Mar, a tourist resort north of Barcelona. Despite the country's troubles, it's partying.
June 7, 2013 -- Updated 1750 GMT (0150 HKT)
The euro club has suffered major shockwaves but its newest member has emerged as an economic star. What;s behind Estonia's success?
May 29, 2013 -- Updated 1323 GMT (2123 HKT)
The global recovery has two speeds: That of the stimulus-fed U.S. and that of the austerity-starved eurozone, according to a new report.
May 14, 2013 -- Updated 1326 GMT (2126 HKT)
The flags of the countries which make up the European Union, outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
The "rich man's club" of Europe faces economic decay as it struggles to absorb Europe's "poor people", according to economic experts.
May 27, 2013 -- Updated 0256 GMT (1056 HKT)
Europe's competitiveness is threatened as manufacturing companies scrambling to find enough skilled engineers.
July 10, 2013 -- Updated 1502 GMT (2302 HKT)
Spain's economic crisis is in its sixth straight year yet tourism, worth 11% of GDP, is holding its own, one of the few bright spots on a bleak horizon.
May 2, 2013 -- Updated 1044 GMT (1844 HKT)
As European financial markets close for the spring celebration of May Day, protesters across Europe and beyond have taken to the streets to demonstrate.
April 26, 2013 -- Updated 1210 GMT (2010 HKT)
As Croatia prepares to enter the 27-nation European Union, the country's Prime Minister says Italy must return to being the "powerhouse of Europe."
April 25, 2013 -- Updated 1656 GMT (0056 HKT)
Spain's unemployment rate rose to a record high of 27.2% in the first quarter of 2013, the Spanish National Institute of Statistics said Thursday.
March 25, 2013 -- Updated 1355 GMT (2155 HKT)
The financial uncertainty in Cyprus is generating images of long lines at ATM machines and anti-European Union protests.
March 25, 2013 -- Updated 1815 GMT (0215 HKT)
Cyprus will "step up efforts in areas of fiscal consolidation." Where have we heard that before? Oh yes. Greece.
March 23, 2013 -- Updated 0139 GMT (0939 HKT)
The Cyprus debt crisis is being felt by the banks but also by the people who work at them. Nick Paton Walsh reports.
March 22, 2013 -- Updated 0010 GMT (0810 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports on a Russian hotel maid caught up in Cyprus' financial crisis.
March 18, 2013 -- Updated 1608 GMT (0008 HKT)
Never underestimate the capacity of the Eurozone to shoot itself in both feet, says CNN's Richard Quest.
February 21, 2013 -- Updated 1603 GMT (0003 HKT)
Spain has seen hundreds of protests since the "Indignados" movement erupted in 2011, marches and sit-ins are now common sights in the capital.