Macron and Merkel sign Aachen treaty to deepen Franco-German ties

Pact on foreign and defence policy and economic links lacks substance, critics say

Financial Times -Guy Chazan in Berlin JANUARY 22, 2019

Germany and France signed a new treaty in the border town of Aachen on Tuesday that commits them to deeper co-operation on foreign and defence policy and closer economic integration.

Angela Merkel, German chancellor, and Emmanuel Macron, French president, sealed the agreement 56 years to the day after Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle signed the Élysée Treaty, a landmark pact that became a symbol of reconciliation between the two former enemies.

The ceremony took place near the residence of Charlemagne, the king who united much of western and central Europe during the Early Middle Ages.

Mr Macron said the Aachen treaty opened “a new chapter” in the Franco-German relationship. In a Europe threatened by Brexit, rising nationalism and the challenges of terrorism, migration and digitalisation, “Germany and France must assume responsibility and show the way”, he added.

According to the French leader, the pact was also designed to contribute to closer integration in the EU. “Our common ambition must be that Europe shields our people from the tumults of the world,” he said. “Because we love Europe, we have decided to continue to build it with force and determination.”

« The treaty of Aachen is emblematic of the current state of Franco-German relations: strong on symbols, but weak on substance. » Henrik Enderlein, vice-president, Hertie School of Governance, Berlin

Ms Merkel said the treaty would “renew the foundation of co-operation” between the two countries, which had affirmed that “we will address the challenges of our time hand in hand”.

But critics said the pact lacked depth. “What was agreed in Aachen is co-operation on the back-burner,” said Anton Hofreiter, head of the Greens in Germany’s parliament. Mr Macron had pushed for much more ambitious goals, for example on climate change, but was rebuffed by Ms Merkel, he said. Aachen produced “nice pictures but barely any substance”.

Henrik Enderlein, president of the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, said: “The treaty of Aachen is emblematic of the current state of Franco-German relations: strong on symbols, but weak on substance.”

Mr Macron first broached the idea of renewing the Élysée Treaty in a speech at the Sorbonne in 2017, in which he set out a number of wide-ranging reforms of the EU designed to “strengthen Europe’s sovereignty”. France and Germany renew friendship treaty

He had hoped the new agreement would be signed in January 2018, but negotiations dragged on for months, held up by divergent views between the two countries on military co-operation.

Meanwhile, Mr Macron has come under rising pressure from France’s “gilets jaunes” protest movement, while Ms Merkel’s authority in her CDU party has been weakened by a string of poor regional election results. She finally stood down as CDU leader last year after 18 years in the job.

The Aachen treaty envisages much closer co-ordination between Paris and Berlin on foreign and defence policy. It boosts the status of the joint Franco-German cabinet meetings that are already held on a regular basis and of the joint security and defence council, first created in 1988, turning it into a “political steering body”.

It also creates a bilateral “council of economic experts” whose brief is to help create a “Franco-German economic space”. Julien Thorel, a researcher at the Centre for European Policy, said France and Germany were positioning themselves as the “avant-garde of the European single market”.

France also pledges to support Germany’s bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. The move will disappoint some in Berlin: last November, Olaf Scholz, German finance minister, urged France to go much further and turn its Security Council seat over to the EU to allow the bloc to “speak with one voice” on foreign policy.

The Aachen treaty also calls for much closer co-operation between border regions. The idea is to create more cross-border connections, both physical — linking the countries’ rail and road networks — and digital, even if this means deviating from national laws. In addition, France and Germany have agreed to recognise each other’s school-leaving qualifications and create joint Franco-German day-care centres for children.

They also agreed a list of 15 projects they will immediately seek to implement, including closing Fessenheim, a French nuclear power station close to the border that is seen by many in Germany as a security risk.

Some on the right of French politics have criticised the treaty, saying it signs away French sovereignty over eastern France. Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Rassemblement National, called it an act of “treachery”.

Mr Macron addressed those critics in his speech in Aachen. “Those who don’t learn the lessons of our reconciliation are accomplices in the crimes of the past,” he said.