The leaders of France and Germany, who will meet on Saturday to mark a watershed 1962 speech by Charles de Gaulle to German youth, have forged a pragmatic bond against the odds for the sake of the euro.
When Francois Hollande took office as French president in May, allies feared the partnership at Europe’s heart would be marred by friction due to differences with Chancellor Angela Merkel on the way out of the crisis.
However, the two leaders now say they have found a way of working together commensurate with the relationship De Gaulle sought to forge after his pivotal address in then West Germany 50 years ago.
“The French president and I co-operate well – that does not mean it cancels out the conflicts of interest that we have had over the last 50 or 60 years but what counts for me is the atmosphere in which we find solutions,” Merkel said on Wednesday.
She said that while Saturday’s meeting was largely ceremonial, she and Hollande would use the occasion to touch base on pressing issues including plans for an EADS-BAE merger in the aeronautics sector and the euro’s woes.
Both issues have explosive potential. Berlin and Paris each have concerns about the potential tie-up to challenge US giant Boeing, as well as lingering disputes about crisis-fighting strategy.
While France favours an only gradual ceding of national sovereignty in the European integration process, Germany has made such steps a condition of its support for further aid to stricken eurozone countries.
And while Paris would like to see a plan to give the European Central Bank surveillance powers for 6,000 banks in the eurozone in place by January, Berlin aims to scale that number down and is in no rush, preferring thoroughness over speed.
“They have no choice but to get along,” political scientist Sabine von Oppeln at Berlin’s Free University told AFP ahead of Saturday’s event. “It’s not a stellar relationship but it works.”
Germany and France are the European Union’s top two economies and the two biggest contributors to the rescue funds bailing out stricken eurozone states.
But after the conservative Merkel’s close working relationship with Nicolas Sarkozy, her partnership with his successor, Socialist Hollande, got off to a rocky start.
Although he campaigned on a platform of reining in Merkel’s tough austerity drive, Hollande has since made a series of conciliatory gestures -- many largely symbolic – such as jetting straight to Berlin after his inauguration.
He also tapped a Germanophile, Jean-Marc Ayrault, as his prime minister.
“Franco-German relations have their own dynamic, regardless of who is at the Elysee,” the presidential palace in Paris, said Frank Baasner, director of the Franco-German Institute in the southwestern city of Ludwigsburg.
De Gaulle gave his September 9, 1962 speech in Ludwigsburg, southwest Germany, and the city will play host Saturday to Merkel and Hollande, who will meet at its Baroque palace, make brief remarks and then retire to a working lunch.
For his address, the general-turned-president spoke to more than 7,000 young people in German without notes, opening a new chapter in relations between the former foes.
Some 17 years after the defeat of the Nazi regime, De Gaulle told his young and enthusiastic audience they were “children of a great nation who... in the course of its history, has made great errors”.
German and French officials have taken part in a series of events celebrating 50 years of post-war reconciliation.
A ceremony is also planned for January in Berlin to mark the signing of the Elysee treaty that formalised Franco-German cooperation.