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22 Jan, 2013 17:45

'Power shift'? France and Germany mark 50 years since historic pact

Paris and Berlin are marking 50 years since the signing of the Elysee treaty, but political scientist Judith Winkler says a “shift in power” to Germany in the last 20 years is making cooperation between the two European power-houses more difficult.

“It may be our best kept secret that our chemistry actually works,” said the German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a press conference in Berlin Tuesday.  French President Francoise Hollande is in the German capital for a jam-packed line up of events to mark the historic Elysee Treaty, signed on 22nd January 1963 by President Charles de Gaulle and the West German chancellor Konrad Adenaur.The governments of both countries will gather at the chancellery, with lawmakers from France’s National Assembly visiting the Reichstag for a debate with the Bundestag, the German parliament. For a long-time cooperation between the two nations has proven the backbone to the European project. Charles de Gaulle said Europe was “a coach and horses, with Germany the horse and France the coachmen”.Drawing on their historical ties, Angela Merkel and Francoise Hollande announced at a press conference Tuesday that they want to further deepen and stabilize European economic and monetary union. “If you look back at the past eight months, I’m very happy with what France and Germany have been able to accomplish to get the euro zone out of its crisis. If you look at the results, it’s clear we’re on the same wavelength,” Hollande said to reporters in Berlin Tuesday. As the UK drifts further and further away from Europe, both politically and ideologically, the main decision’s concerning the continent’s future will likely be taken in Berlin and Paris. But the two nations are not without their disagreements.Despite being firmly committed to the Euro, both are at odds on how to solve the Eurozone financial crisis. Merkel believes that cutting deficits and austerity is the only long term solution, while Hollande believes only fresh spending will bolster growth. He also wants more solidarity and risk-sharing and a bigger euro-zone budget to deal with economic problems. There is rising concern among Germans and financiers about the state of the French economy, who “don’t want to catch a cold if your [French] economy sneezes”, RT’s correspondent in Berlin, Peter Oliver, reported.

On the surface Franco-German military ties appear close, even sharing a fighting brigade, formed in 1987, but in reality in recent years France often appeared more in tune with British foreign policy.While France has been quick to deploy forces in Libya and Mali, Germany has been reluctant to commit troops and has so far promised only limited logistical aid. Wolfgang Schaeuble the German finance minister, said that “Germany didn’t want to be a major player in foreign policy,” citing Germany’s 20th century history as a reason not to become too involved. “How could we be, after Hitler and Auschwitz?” he said Monday to the Handelsblatt business daily. 

Despite Schaeuble’s comments, Germany appears far more involved now in global politics, than it was 23 years ago when the country was reunited. Judith Winkler, a political scientist from the Free University of Berlin, explained that there has been a shift in the balance between France and Germany since the end of the Cold War. “Since before the end of the Cold War, it was Germany that carried the economic weight and France that carried the political weight, now there has been a shift towards political weight for Germany as well, at least from a French perspective. So that has certainly made co-operation more difficult,” she said.  Watch RT's interview with Judith Winkler

Over the past 50 years of formal friendship, sustained German economic success – thanks largely to Germany’s export of manufactured goods – has transformed the country into Europe’s indispensable power, overtaking France in the process.There is also a general lack of vision as to which way Europe is heading, Professor Max Otte from the Worms University of Applied Sciences, told RT. “There have been times when the French-German tandem has been more effective to be sure, the thing is, is that the overall vision for Europe is lacking, its diverging, and so we won’t see Europe make great progress towards a more unified continent any time soon”, he said.