50 Years Since the Élysée Treaty

The Treaty of Friendship between France and the Federal Republic of Germany, signed on January 22, 1963, was the culmination of a prolonged process of reconciliation between the two nations, lead by Konrad Adenauer (on the German side), and by Robert Schumann, and then Charles de Gaulle (on the French side). This process and the signing of the treaty reflected the conviction of these actors and of the Franco-German leadership that there must be no way, no possibility, to go back to the horrors of the world war that ended a very few years before, nor to the centuries of enmity and conflict that actually paved the way to those horrors. As they mentioned in the joint declaration that constitutes a sort of preamble of the treaty, the close relationship between France and Germany was not only essential for the two countries, but also necessary for the peace and unity of Europe as a whole:

Convinced that the reconciliation of the German people and the French people, ending a centuries-old rivalry, constitutes a historic event which profoundly transforms the relations between the two peoples,

Conscious of the solidarity uniting the two peoples from the point of view of both their security and their economic and cultural development,

Aware in particular that youth has recognized this solidarity and is called upon to play a decisive part in the consolidation of Franco-German friendship,

Recognizing that increased co-operation between the two countries constitutes an indispensable stage on the way to a united Europe, which is the aim of the two peoples

Have agreed to the organization and principles of co-operation between the two States as set out in the treaty signed today.

The treaty thus signed established several mechanisms of cooperation, in areas  ranging from defense to economy, from culture to education.  Far from being a “soft” reality, the cooperation in these latter fields (youth exchange, education, culture) became key avenues of strengthening and building the deeper foundations of the Franco-German friendship –  since shared and acquainted culture is shared identity. Not that the two cultures have ever being “foreign” or “removed”, fact well-known by anyone with even a bit of knowledge of history, and especially of cultural history; fact also nicely illustrated by  Adenauer speaking  French, de Gaulle speaking German, and by Robert Schuman being a natively German-speaking, Luxembourg-born, several-times Prime  Minister of France.

As an example, here is de Gaulle delivering the famous Berlin speech, in German, with the occasion of his visit in 1962:

Among the tools established by the treaty of 1963, which institutionalized the Franco-German avenues of cooperation, were regular meetings at the highest level (between the German Chancellor and the French President), as well as meetings at quite short intervals at ministerial level (between counterparts in defense, economy etc). These regulated and prescribed meetings became, in the decades since, a natural, daily modus vivendi and modus operandi (even modus cogendi, or way of thinking) of the governments and the leaders of the two countries. Just like today it is normal to move between Germany and  France without even realizing that, at a certain time, there were frontiers to cross between these countries, and without realizing that formally those borders still exist.

It is interesting and most fortunate that this inter-national relationship has also shaped personal-level friendships between those who, at any given time, are the leaders of the two states – despite their eventual different political orientations: from the relationship between Helmut Kohl (Christan-Democrat) and François Mitterand (Socialist), to the one between Angela Merkel and François Hollande (currently called “the Merkhollande”, notwithstanding that the German Chancellor actively supported Sarkozy in the last elections).

The European mindset of the main actors was an essential factor in the Franco-German reconciliation that followed in the aftermath of the Second World War; it is not perchance that the same actors are also among the “founding fathers” of the united Europe.  As was their hope,  today the European Union is unimaginable without – and is driven and guaranteed by – the relationship between these two countries, who are the economic, political and cultural powerhouses of the continent.

To signify and celebrate the importance of the treaty, and of the entire relationship, 2013 was declared the German-French year. The video below provides an insight into the relevance of the reconciliation process and of the treaty, by nicely situating them in the context of all those centuries of miserable enmity and warfare.


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