Long live Franco-German friendship

Feature photo: Franco-German Friendship | © Shutterstock

I once made the crazy attempt to summarize 400 years of Franco-German history on two pages. Even if some things certainly had to be presented in a very shortened form, I hope I have worked out some essential features quite properly. Questions or comments are always welcome!

"A real German man doesn't like Franzen. But he likes to drink their wines.” So it says in Goethe's Faust. If we look back in history, Franco-German relations were mostly not characterized by friendship. From the 17th century, France became the strongest power in Europe and it emerged as the forerunner of a modern nation-state, one monarch, one language, one denomination. The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, on the other hand, was neither holy nor Roman nor an empire, but a patchwork of different principalities that were at odds with one another and sometimes fought fiercely. In addition, the most powerful dynasties, the Habsburgs and the Hohenzollerns, owned significant areas outside the empire. France expanded itself north and west during the War of the Spanish Succession, gaining allies among the German princes, including the Archbishop of Cologne and the Duke of Bavaria. For some time afterwards, the antagonism between France and Austria was one of the fundamental constants of European power politics. Later, during the Seven Years' War, France was first allied with Prussia against Austria, then when a rapprochement between Prussia and the Kingdom of Great Britain was looming, France saw a danger in it, switched sides and formed a defensive alliance with Austria.

The deck was completely reshuffled in 1789 with the French Revolution. All the princes of Europe recognized revolutionary France as an existential threat. Great Britain, Austria, Russia, Portugal, Naples, the Papal States and others fought against France in various coalition wars. At the same time, however, there are people in all of these countries, but especially in Germany, who see the French Revolution as an opportunity to change the outdated territorial and power structures in their own country, and who therefore place their hopes in revolutionary France. In terms of territorial structures, a lot happened during the revolutionary wars, around 1.800 estates directly under the Reich became around three dozen independent states, some of which were still quite small. Outside of the Habsburg territories, Prussia, Bavaria, Württemberg and Baden remained the largest states. But the hope that France would carry the torch of revolution to Germany was quickly dashed. In 1804 Napoleon had himself crowned Emperor. Hopes from France that democracy would spread are thus done. (Beethoven, who had planned to dedicate his 3rd symphony to Napoleon, refrains from doing so, he now calls it Eroica). Thus, in 1814/15 all liberal and progressive-minded people found themselves at the side of their princes in order to get rid of the imperialist French foreign rule.

Europe is then briefly dominated by the restorative Holy Alliance. But already in 1830 the Gallic rooster crowed a second time (Heinrich Heine) and again in 1848. This also inspired the liberal forces in Germany, who dreamed of a more democratic Germany. But unlike the French, the Germans were never willing to simply chase their monarchs away. And the princes were initially willing to compromise, mostly appointing liberal “March Ministers”, but in the end the Prussian king rejected the imperial dignity that was offered to him. This meant that German unity and the Reich's constitution had failed. In the two decades that followed, Prussia became ever stronger in Little Germany (without Austria), where Bismarck became prime minister. He was convinced that imperial unity could only be achieved through a victorious war against France, which he consequently provoked (Emser Depesche). Prussia and its allies won the war and founded the German Empire in 1871. On that occasion they forced a humiliating peace on France, France had to cede Alsace and Lorraine to Germany and pay 5 billion francs in reparations (e.g. the German Crown Prince Friedrich called this demand cruel). 43 years later, France and Germany were once again hostile to each other. After the First World War, which ended on the losing side for Germany, this time it is the French who enforce very tough conditions for Germany in the Versailles Peace Treaty. (By the way, it is historically clearly incorrect that the terms of the Versailles Treaty contributed significantly to the rise of Hitler, which only began 10 years later when the relatively unstable Weimar Republic was rocked by the Great Depression).

Twenty years after the end of the First World War, Hitler's Germany began the Second World War and defeated France in a blitzkrieg - disregarding the neutrality of the Netherlands and Belgium - within a few days. General de Gaulle, until then Secretary of State in the French Ministry of Defense, fled to London and founded the French government-in-exile there a year later. Paris was liberated three years later and when Germany capitulated unconditionally in May 1, France was one of the victorious powers. Germany was divided into occupation zones. After a cold war between the western powers and the Soviet Union began in 2, the Federal Republic of Germany was founded two years later in the three western zones. France and Germany were suddenly part of the same global political camp.

It was a stroke of luck in history that far-sighted politicians held key positions in both countries, in France Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet, in Germany Konrad Adenauer. This is how the European Coal and Steel Community, usually called the Montanunion, came about. From this, the European Economic Community (EEC) developed in 1957. In 1959, De Gaulle became President of France, along with Konrad Adenauer he developed a system of German-French consultations. The two politicians also succeeded in anchoring the idea of ​​Franco-German friendship in the hearts of people in both countries. The Maastricht Treaty in 1993 turned the EEC into the European Union, which now has 27 member states.

Just as 200 years ago the small state system of Germany had survived, today's agenda is to further develop a united and strong European Union, which should be a guarantor for a flourishing and peacefully coexisting Europe. Geopolitically we have not had one bipolarity for decades, but three world powers, the USA, Russia and China. Peaceful coexistence between nations can only benefit if Europe joins in as a strong force. The basis for such a development can and must be a stable Franco-German friendship.

 Vive l'amitié franco-allemande             


“France and Germany are striving to further expand Franco-German cooperation in order to meet the political, social, economic and technological challenges of the coming decades. In particular, it is about making progress towards a more prosperous and competitive, sovereign, united and democratic Europe. Our goal is to develop common positions on all important European and international issues.”

Joint declaration on the 55th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty (January 22, 2018)

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