January 29 2019 2:30 AM
When John Hume was bestowed with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998, he referred to an experience that had left a mark on him when visiting Strasbourg for the first time in 1979.
He described how he had gone for a walk across the bridge from the French city to the German city of Kehl and stated: “If I had stood on this bridge 30 years ago after the end of the Second World War when 25 million people lay dead across our continent for the second time in this century and if I had said: 'Don't worry. In 30 years' time we will all be together in a new Europe, our conflicts and wars will be ended and we will be working together in our common interests', I would have been sent to a psychiatrist.”
And indeed, the reconciliation between France and Germany is a historical achievement. A milestone on this path was the Élysée Treaty of 1963. It crucially fostered reconciliation and encounters between our two countries and civil society - particularly between young people. There are today more than 2,200 town twinnings between France and Germany and since 1963 over nine million young French and Germans have taken part in one of the 320,000 exchange programmes through the French German Youth Office.
Last week, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Emmanuel Macron signed in Aachen a new, ambitious Franco-German treaty which complements the Élysée Treaty, with a view to furthering a new level of co-operation adapted to the stakes of the 21st century. The Aachen Treaty is taking our partnership to the next level. One main focus of the treaty is an increased co-operation in border areas, where we will jointly develop innovative regulatory and legislative solutions to encourage concrete trans-border projects.
We see our French-German border areas as an opportunity for citizens to develop innovative European solutions that can set examples for European integration. A new cross-border co-operation committee will be established to implement projects such as commercial zones, nurseries, healthcare provision and educational institutes. Bilingualism will be promoted.
In terms of EU diplomacy, defence and foreign action, the treaty includes a number of areas of increased co-operation. A Franco-German defence and security council will be established. Further examples include a mutual defence clause, a common military unit for stabilisation efforts in conflict zones, and an enhanced diplomatic staff exchange.
Furthermore, the treaty states that a permanent seat for Germany at the United Nations Security Council is a priority for Franco-German diplomacy. In order to jointly tackle the challenges of a globalised world, we aim to launch visionary projects. To future-proof our economies and to make them more competitive, we will increasingly co-ordinate our economic policies and establish a Council of Economic Experts. A Franco-German 'Forum for the Future' will interlink political, business, research and civil society actors to jointly discuss transformation processes.
In its preamble, the Elysée Treaty highlighted that an increased co-operation between France and Germany “constitutes a vital stage along the road to a united Europe, which is the goal of the two peoples”. Franco-German co-operation has always been and will always be meant to include the other member states of the European Union, to help strengthen our common voice on the international stage. Today, the Aachen Treaty confirms the inclusiveness of this goal.
As the multilateral system is coming under increased pressure, we hope that new models of bilateral co-operation can serve as a nucleus for enhanced European co-operation. Global challenges such as peace and security, climate change and a rise of populism can only be mastered if we stand and work together with all our European Partners.