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<span class="soustitre">The Role of France and Germany in Today's and Tomorrow's Europe </span>

The Role of France and Germany in Today's and Tomorrow's Europe

Speech by Mme Noëlle Lenoir, Minister Delegate for European Affairs, at Columbia University¹, New York. SourceEmbassy of France in the United States - March 2, 2004.

New York likes to dub itself the capital of the world. And with good reasons: so many people from different places of the world have come here to find freedom and prosperity; that great institution, the United Nations, sits by the shore of the East River; and many of the forces driving globalization trace back their origin to the unbelievable creativity of New York... and in particular Wall Street. In a sense, New York has fulfilled the prophecy of Lyndon Johnson who argued, in 1963, “We hope the world will not narrow into a neighbourhood before it has broadened into a brotherhood”. And indeed, as we live closer and closer to the rest of the world, these words are truer than ever.

In Europe too, the challenge of turning a neighbourhood into a brotherhood has been the major focus of politicians for the past 50 years. And with good reasons. Even though the French and the Germans have a common origin, since the Franks who founded France were a Germanic tribe, our history is not that of brothers, unless we refer to Cain and Abel. Centuries of wars have plagued the continent. For our part, we have been at war with Germany no less than 35 times in history and with everyone else in Europe except Denmark, Switzerland and Poland! But, after three terrible wars, Europe said “enough”. Let's turn ourselves into a “band of brothers”. How?

At the centre of the rise of the European Union, one finds Franco-German reconciliation. European integration constitutes the heart of Franco-German cooperation. But with Europe being larger and farther away from this tragic origin, does that link still hold true? Are we still the backbone of the whole project or just 2 among 25 member States? That's one of the main questions regarding the future of Europe. Let me argue that our Franco-German couple can still make a necessary contribution to Europe. And let me sketch what that contribution could be.

For that, I would like to underline first that, in Europe, we remain a necessary (though not unique) engine to move forward since our ambition remains unabated. Second, between us, we constitute a unique laboratory of possible new forms of integration beyond national borders, a laboratory in which might appear the solutions to Europe's greatest challenges of today.

  • In Europe, France and Germany remain a necessary (though not unique) engine to move forward.

Historically, the great leaps forward of Europe were born of a Franco-German agreement. The call of Robert Schuman, then French Minister of Foreign Affairs, in 1950, to exercise joint control of our coal and steel production (which is the founding act of European integration) was first made to the Germans. Robert Schuman, as a Minister born in a French territory occupied by Germany, knew first-hand the price of peace with Germany. This call succeeded because Chancellor Adenauer took less than a minute to jump on board, saying he'd been waiting for that moment for 25 years. Further advances were the products of deep closeness between our leaders: President Giscard d'Estaing and Chancellor Schmidt promoted European democracy through the direct election of the European Parliament in Strasbourg; President Mitterrand and Chancellor Kohl agreed on the creation of the euro as not only a way to ensure proper European management of the huge event that was German reunification, but also to improve the coherence of Europe's internal market; President Chirac and Chancellor Schröder are key architects of Europe's future Constitution and defence policy.

In this respect, let me show you, first, why we think we are particularly well placed to devise the prototype of key European decisions and how, in the enlarged Europe, there is a need for broader discussions than between just the two of us.

  • France and Germany are, in our view, particularly well placed to imagine prototype European projects.

Indeed, the first thing I need to do in giving this lecture is to clarify the nature of the Franco-German engine. Because I want to make clear that it is absolutely not our intention to constitute an “axis” that would decide for the others. The importance and the value of the Franco-German relationship in Europe is precisely that we don't automatically agree with each other. Our mentalities and political systems are different: for example, our economies are radically different, with dialogue between social partners central in Germany whereas in France, the State has a habit of jumping between unions and employers whose dialogue is usually not so productive. I was recently given an example of unions which decided to push together for a Franco-German transboundary minimum wage. They could never go beyond that well-intentioned goal as the Germans wanted it negotiated between Unions and employers and the French wanted it set by law. Moreover, on specific issues, we have to admit that it often happens that our national interests diverge.

Yet we have in common an essential idea: it is in the general interest of Europeans to build Europe as a political project, not a mere market. To make a Europe serving all its citizens, as President Chirac said in his New Year speech of 2004. The success of enlargement is both a testimony to that key idea and a good illustration of the working of our Franco-German couple. We agreed very early on that there was a need to welcome in countries of the ex-Soviet bloc. Yet we differed over the financing of that great project: who pays? How much? Where do we find the money? Which existing European programme should be reoriented in favour of our new partners? On these issues, we argued bitterly with Germany. And then, we struck a deal in October 2002, which all of Europe greeted with relief as everyone could also agree with it. And two months later, it was the historic Copenhagen Summit that finalized the enlargement negotiations. As regards the way to deal with the candidacy of Turkey, although our views are closer yet not exactly similar, the rendezvous clause of next December was also, initially, a Franco-German idea. Indeed, France and Germany, once again, managed to convince their partners to postpone to the end of this year the next decision regarding Turkey's possible future accession to the EU.

We also managed to work hand in hand to contribute positively to the drafting of the European Constitution and to make a success of the “Convention”, the democratic body in charge of the endeavour, named after the Philadelphia Convention. And in that exercise as well, our relationship proved very productive because we have different Constitutional traditions. In Germany, democracy was established on federalist principles and the success of this experience makes Germans very keen on organizing Europe around the federal idea. In France, our regime has long rested on a more centralized system and our worry has been, French Constitution after French Constitution, to make sure our State could function effectively. These visions may conflict, but they may also bring a uniquely productive alchemy for Europe. Regarding the draft Constitution, it is the latter logic that prevailed. And therefore, our French worry of effectiveness led to the creation of a more stable Presidency of the European Council (which unites the heads of State or government each semester) and of a European Foreign Minister to help us assert our own European identity. On the other hand, the German preference for a democratic federation is reflected by two provisions: first, the President of the Commission will be elected by the European Parliament and, second, the voting power of that Parliament as co-legislator will be greatly extended. Furthermore, our two countries could come together on an important enhancement of EU competence: an EU prosecutor to fight with more efficiency against organized crime, terrorism and drug trafficking; better border police cooperation; better economic coordination inside the Eurozone, to name just the most important examples. France and Germany did not alone push for these innovations. But our ability to suggest worked to its full extent since a confident dialogue existed in the Convention. So that the result proved very satisfying.

  • Yet in an enlarged and therefore more diverse Union, it is not clear that such an ability to press forward will be sufficient .

A month and a half ago, I was in Berlin, in the Bertelsmann Foundation, for discussions over the future of Europe with various government leaders of the other countries, the kind of freewheeling reflections we sometimes have. I was then comparing Europe to a train to which 10 new cars [carriages] were being added. Will our old engine still be able to pull the train forward?

Concretely, the Franco-German engine is mainly a set of high level meetings called the Blaesheim meetings, named after a charming Alsacian town by the Rhine river where the first meeting took place. They were established in January 2001, after the Nice Summit's not-too-convincing results were blamed on insufficient cooperation between France and Germany. In these meetings, usually over dinner, the French President, the German Chancellor and both Ministers of Foreign Affairs discuss the preparation of European decisions about to be taken. They take place about every 6 weeks. That's where, concretely, the Franco-German engine gets its fuel.

Today, there are talks of that engine being less capable of proposing new projects. But just look at the Constitution. As I just said, the draft presented to member States was largely inspired by Franco-German creativity. Nevertheless, regarding power sharing, Franco-German support for a new voting formula was not enough to overcome the objections of Spain and Poland. That's because Europe is faced with a confidence challenge. With enlargement, and after the bitter discussions over Iraq or the Constitution, there is a need to find confidence again between the member States. I am hopeful that, when the new member States get used to the give-and-take day-to-day routine of EU life, the process will be easier. But in that new equilibrium in the enlarged Europe, the Franco-German couple must and will still have a prominent role to play.

My view is that our engine remains a necessary driving force, but that, to be one, it needs to open up to other European partners. That was the whole purpose of the Summit between President Chirac, Chancellor Schröder and Prime Minister Blair on 18 February in Berlin. Why this summit? Because our urgent concern is to make Europe move forward and be stronger. As you well know here after 9/11, the world has changed. And if Europe doesn't find the ways to face up to today's global threats (terrorism, organized crime, WMD, but also economic, ecological and social challenges), it will dilute into irrelevance. In that context, our new ambition is foreign policy and defence and, in these endeavours, we need Britain. It is not conceivable to build up Europe in these fields without Britain and its military skills and capacities, as well as the special trust that exists between Britain and the United States. To discuss these matters, our three countries seem an appropriate forum. Indeed, an earlier Berlin Summit was the occasion for the same three countries to propose appropriate ways to develop European defence: a European armaments agency, our first real military operations in the Balkans and in Congo, new proposals that enriched the Chapter on defence in our future Constitution.

Yes, these summits have been decried, but in this matter, we're damned if we do and damned if we don't. Too exclusive when we remain two, too bossy when we bring others into the fray. So how to avoid that conundrum? I see two ways:

•  First, our Franco-German couple should also work with others: another example of cooperation is the Weimar triangle with Poland. And indeed, it is in that format that we met, with my German and Polish colleagues, just after last December's European Council to show all links had not been severed by the inconclusive discussions.

•  Second, Franco-German proposals, to have a chance to see the light of day, need to be translated into acts of the institutions. With that in mind, it's important to keep working with mutual trust with the European Commission in Brussels, because it is that body which is invested with the power to transform national suggestions into draft European legislation.

It is only if we stay true to these two principles that we'll be able to preserve the unique potential of our two countries to promote new ideas on which, so far, Europe has been dependent for moving forward. But there is another, even better form of leadership, and that is the force of example.

  • Between themselves, France and Germany constitute a unique laboratory in which to deal with the challenges facing Europe: the invention of a new kind of citizenship and the competitiveness of its economy

Europe is the product of a will, the will to understand each other and to get our act together. That will to build Europe, based on Franco-German reconciliation, a sort of miracle, and then cooperation, has become a will to make our peoples themselves understand each other better. Until now, Europe was a project for the peoples, imagined by visionaries, our founding fathers. Now, it must become a project by and with the peoples. And who better than France and Germany, who developed a unique form of people-to-people contact between themselves in order to create a lasting reconciliation, to lead the way in the difficult task of creating a European citizenship – that is to say a citizenship that is additional and respectful of national identities? Let me show you how that new aspect of European policy, the meetings of civil society, which has greatly developed between us, is now one of the most important endeavours of Europe. And why it should accelerate the search for a new competitive economic and social model for Europe, another project on which depends the birth of that new European citizenship.

  • In the past 40 years, France and Germany have made great efforts to create concrete contacts between their citizens, which is useful for Europe now .

It is one thing to decide, at a diplomatic level, to create an alliance. It is quite another to make people of different countries discover each other, go beyond national stereotypes and actually get to know each other better. That second endeavour is much harder to achieve. To illustrate it, I recall Voltaire telling of a lady at the Court of Versailles who said “What a dreadful pity that the bother at the tower of Babel should have got languages all mixed up; but for that, everyone would always have spoken French”. An example of French arrogance? Not entirely, more the fact that people naturally tend to think the rest of the world acts like they do.

Since the Elysée Treaty, signed in 1963, which sealed the reconciliation between the two hereditary enemies, 40 years have passed. And for 40 years now, we have tried to face up to this daunting task of making real people, French and Germans, actually meet. That's why we have created a Franco-German Youth Office which has so far organized exchanges for 7 million young people, a binational TV station (ARTE) and a Franco-German University, concretely a network of universities offering integrated curricula and Franco-German diplomas.

We've been doing that for 40 years and yet we have found that the new generations are less aware of the importance, for ensuring peace prevails in Europe, of our two countries getting along well. It is to make that point better heard that we decided to put a special emphasis on that 40 th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty and decided on the setting-up of entirely new institutions to accelerate the process of bringing together our societies: joint cabinet meetings convened twice a year, frequent joint meetings of our parliamentary committees, more contacts between local authorities (we had a very successful summit of Länder and regions in Poitiers later in the year) and the appointment of General Secretaries for Franco-German cooperation (my colleague Hans Martin Bury and me). I can testify that the latter function was really needed, judging by the fact that I see or call my German counterpart at least as frequently, if not more, than I get in touch with most of my colleagues in the French government.

The reason we did that was not only to celebrate Franco-German friendship, but also to invite Europe to engage more in these kinds of people-to-people contact, in order to flesh out the concept of European citizenship. That citizenship legally exists now. For instance, it provides a complete freedom of movement within the EU and also some important political rights, the most tangible of which being the right to vote and be elected throughout Europe in the European Parliament and local elections.

But it is not enough that European citizenship exists legally. In order to establish a real democracy at EU level, it's indispensable to foster the Europeans' feeling that they belong to a common political entity. In this regard, we really need to do more and our Franco-German experience could undoubtedly bring useful inspiration. Indeed, the very name Constitution puts the concept of citizenship at the heart of the European project. Given our successful Franco-German experience in bringing civil societies closer, we can only rejoice that our future Constitution introduces new means for the citizen to express his/her views. In particular, it states that if one collects a million signatures over Europe, one may force the Commission to propose a draft European law. In passing, I note that's the first time we have introduced an element of direct democracy in European decision-making.

  • But the great challenge to convince our citizens that this is for real is the competitiveness of our economies .

Indeed, throughout Europe, citizens are attached to a rather generous welfare system. They're also more and more aware that the funding of that welfare system rests necessarily on a competitive dynamic economy. If Europe can help States rise to the challenge, helping the reforms take place and convincing people of what they have to gain, it will win the trust of our citizens. Again, France and Germany, where that quest for a competitive economy with a generous welfare system is the most acute, are bound to lead. With the gentle prodding of Europe, in France and in Germany, we have begun the process of structural reform to make our economies more responsive and more competitive. In the past few years, we have reformed our pension system, have opened up previously closed sectors (such as energy and transport), have introduced some flexibility in the labour market and are now tackling the cost of health care. We must continue to do so in the line of the last Franco-German joint cabinet meeting of last September, which was devoted to that.

The point of all this is not a claim of leadership. But it so happens that our economies are the two biggest on the continent and that both are facing fundamental challenges. Europe cannot be indifferent to the fact that France and Germany are not doing well from an economic point of view, if only because they represent two thirds of the economy of the Eurozone. That's not an appeal, just a fact. Therefore, helping these two countries find their new path to growth can only be a European endeavour. The competitiveness challenge of France and Germany touches the fundamentals of our societies, which explains why this European economic policy will be difficult to implement. In Germany, we see the limits of the capitalist-Rhenan model: it has ensured the miracle of Germany for 50 years but now seems somehow to be running out of steam. Hence Chancellor Schröder's agenda 2010. In France, it's a dirigiste centralized and engineer-driven system that is showing the strains after decades of successful development. Hence Prime-Minister Raffarin's Agenda 2006.

That explains why it is always France and Germany that make proposals regarding the economy, why others are sometimes not so keen on these proposals, and why it's still very important that they are implemented. Most of last semester's discussions over the Stability and Growth Pact fit neatly into that framework. But there is another worrying issue, which is de-industrialization, a major problem for Europe, and especially for France and Germany which explains why it's these countries that lead the thinking on how to push Europe to be a leader in key sectors of the economy: information technology, biotechnology, nanotechnology, following what proved successful in the aircraft industry with Airbus and in the space industry. Thanks to Franco-German insistence, the issue of de-industrialization will be a strong priority of next month's European Council. That Council will aim at reinvigorating the Lisbon Strategy which, we must admit, is not very productive now. It aims at making the EU the most competitive economy in the world by 2010 and we are still far from that ambitious target. The Irish Presidency of the EU, which has heeded our concern, wants to make next month's European Council practical and to the point. We've applauded that and the main proposals of the Berlin Summit were precisely intended to help the Presidency fulfil that endeavour: adopt a Community patent, simplify the European research programme, assessing precisely the impact on business of further regulation, maybe even adopting a looser approach to competition when it deals with strategic sectors.

The challenge for Europe remains great. Whether it's creating a new form of citizenship or finding the path to a reformed economic and social model, it is France and Germany who, with others and in Europe, must work together to complete the task launched 50 years ago and consolidate it. I am hopeful, but not blind to the difficulties because so much remains to be done.

So that's what France and Germany are up to in Europe. I'm not deaf to the worries expressed by those who wondered against whom would be directed the new-found strength of the Franco-German renewed entente. Let me therefore quote a very convincing conclusion by Reginald Dale, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, published recently in an American newspaper: “Americans should understand that the starting point for Europe is what is good for Europe (which is often incidentally good for America too), not what is bad for the United States”. When it comes to the really important issues of the day, such as terrorism, competitiveness and the proper management of globalization, we think like you and we work with you. So let us find again the path to a confident transatlantic relationship because only fear and misunderstanding stand in the way of it. As President J.F. Kennedy said: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”. So I say to us, Europeans, French and Germans, and Americans: let's be brave, that's what we've been throughout our history, and stay shoulder to shoulder. Because the dangers of the world demand no less./.

¹ Mme Lenoir spoke in English.

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).