Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

From One Electoral Campaign to Another: Franco-German Relations in Turbulent Times

Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

From One Electoral Campaign to Another: Franco-German Relations in Turbulent Times

Article excerpt

Introduction: A Particular Time for an Old Bilateral Relationship

In the Cathedral of Reims, where French kings used to be crowned and where Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer met 50 years earlier for a common mass, a "Franco-German year" started on 8 July 2012. It will end on 5 July 2013 with the 50th anniversary of the creation of one of the biggest achievements of Franco-German reconciliation: the French-German Youth Office (OFAJ/DFJW). This year was organised in order to give a special dimension to the 50th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty on 22 January 2013. In addition to the celebration of Franco-German friendship and of this particular day, the goal was to tighten the links through new initiatives.

However, the year started just two months after the election of François Hollande as the new French president and will finish a little bit more than two months before Germany's general legislative election. It is not the first time that these regular celebrations have been affected by national agendas. The last episode, on the 40th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty, took place in similar circumstances, just after a year in which France in the spring and Germany in the autumn had held national elections. But then, the two leaders already in place where re-elected and could then continue their bilateral relationship and preparation for the anniversary.

This context is not the only element to take into account in order to analyse the current state of the Franco-German relationship and make a first appraisal of this Franco-German year. Several other cyclical elements (economic and financial, crises of confidence at the national and European levels, imbalances in the Franco-German relationship) and some important structural evolutions (the enlargements of the European Union, institutionalisation of governance for the eurozone, generational changes and changes in mentalities) need to be included in the analysis. Due not only to its importance but also to the place it leaves to symbolic politics, the Franco-German relationship is often described through emotions and in a Manichaean way, alternating between a description of two close friends and a nearly divorced couple. What is the current state of the Franco-German relationship regarding its old history and what are the new factors determining it? To what extent has the window of opportunity constituted by the Élysée Treaty been affected by the national and European contexts? What are its perspectives?

A Necessary New View of the Franco-German Relationship

The national elections surrounding this 50th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty and this Franco-German year are not the only cyclical factors affecting the relationship and these events. The European economic context in general is an essential element to understanding many attitudes. The economic and financial crises hitting Europe since 2008 are exacerbating the tensions between the different Member States and their representatives. Furthermore, these crises have many dimensions (debt, banking, finance) which are all subjects of discussions and thus of disagreements between the Member States, and more particularly between France and Germany. Besides the crises at the centre of attention, which are keys to resolving the current difficulties, many other aspects are neglected.

The European Union is also facing a crisis of confidence. Since their creation, European elections have been a good testament of this phenomenon with their continuous decrease in participation. In many Member States, resistance towards the European integration process has become stronger and has led to some significant events such as the negative referenda on ratification of recent treaties.1 If Germany is less affected than France by this trend, mainly due to the still large commitment of its political class and the natural inclination towards federalism, the German population has nevertheless became more and more mistrustful over the two last decades. …

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