Citizens of the partner cities of Reims and Aachen,
Esteemed students and pupils,
President of the French Republic, Emmanuel,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Today is an important day for the Franco‑German friendship. With the Treaty of Aachen, we are renewing the foundation of cooperation between our countries. We are reaffirming our intention to tackle the great challenges of our time side by side. We are doing this in Aachen, the principle residence of Charlemagne, the one whom we call the Father of Europe. We are doing this therefore in a place that stands both for the historic similarity between Germany and France and for the point of departure of very different paths of development. We are signing this Treaty on the 56th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty of 1963. We are signing the Treaty of Aachen – a document that sets out the framework for our future cooperation.
Emmanuel Macron, just eight months ago you were awarded the Charlemagne Prize at this very spot – for your commitment to Europe, for your ideas for Europe and for your ideas regarding the cooperation between our two countries.
In view of the long era of rivalry and war between our countries, the fact that we are meeting like this today is not something that can be taken for granted. We should keep on reminding ourselves of this fact. It was only after the Second World War, which Germany brought to Europe during the National Socialist era, that we achieved understanding, reconciliation and ultimately friendship – a friendship that has now become deeply rooted in our societies. History thus took a turn that could not have been any more fortunate for us.
We remember the foresight and determination of Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle. They drove forward this process with the Élysée Treaty and made it irreversible. We remember many other courageous politicians and masterminds who devoted themselves to the Franco‑German friendship with all their might. I would like to mention Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and Helmut Schmidt here, as well as Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand. Just as important are the thousands of mayors and leaders in our partner cities, those responsible for the 180 academic exchange programmes and the eight million people who have been given the opportunity to get to know each other over the years thanks to the Franco‑German Youth Office. Allow me to welcome representatives from all of these groups here today.
The fact that all of this came about was by no means something to be taken for granted. It was by no means as easy as it sometimes appears today in retrospect. The history of the origins and above all the ratification of the Élysée Treaty 56 years ago was a thorny path, to borrow a metaphor that was often employed at that time. As a rose‑grower, Konrad Adenauer knew what he was talking about. And yet the Élysée Treaty helped to turn the Franco‑German friendship into a unique relationship.
Why are we signing a new treaty today, supplemented by an agreement between our two parliaments, which will, in the future, work together in a structured manner in a parliamentary assembly consisting of 50 parliamentarians from each country? Why are we implementing the proposal made by French President Emmanuel Macron in his speech at the Sorbonne in September 2017 just 16 months down the line? We are doing so because we are living in exceptional times, and also because we need decisive, unambiguous, clear and forward‑looking responses in this day and age.
On the one hand, the Europe of today can hardly be compared with that of 1963 – neither in terms of the depth of integration nor as far as the number of its member states is concerned. On the other hand, populism and nationalism are on the rise in all our countries. The UK’s withdrawal marks the first time that a country is leaving the EU. Multilateralism is coming under fire around the world – whether in climate cooperation, world trade, the acceptance of international institutions, even the United Nations. Seventy‑four years – a lifetime – after the end of the Second World War, things that seemed to be self‑evident are being called into question once again.
This is why we need, firstly, to recast our responsibility within the EU – the responsibility of Germany and France in this European Union. This is why we need, secondly, to redefine the direction of our cooperation. And thirdly, this is why we need a common understanding of our international role, one that can lead to joint action. This is why, fourthly, we need common ground in the daily lives of our two peoples – in institutions, above all in the day‑to‑day coexistence of our peoples, and in the border region in particular.
The new Treaty, the Treaty of Aachen, consists of seven chapters and 28 articles. We are very deliberately starting out with the chapter entitled “European affairs”. We are part of the European Union and we want to help ensure that it succeeds. I am particularly grateful to the representatives of the European institutions, to you, Jean‑Claude Juncker, to you, Donald Tusk, and to you, Klaus Iohannis, for being here today. This reflects what we want to express with this Treaty.
The fact that the second chapter of the Treaty addresses questions of peace and security is also no coincidence. Integrated into our common systems of collective security, we, Germany and France, pledge to offer one another any form of assistance and support that we can in the event of an armed attack on our respective territories. This includes military means. This sounds very simple and obvious, but it is not. And so we discussed each and every word at length. However, this is the necessary conclusion that we must draw from the breathtaking path that our peoples have trodden.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the French President once again for inviting me to join the ceremonies commemorating the centenary of the end of the First World War. We visited Compiègne, the place where the armistice was signed in 1918. The journey from that day to this, to our commitment to help each other, is simply breathtaking. We are grateful that we were able to make this journey.
We are committed to developing a common military culture, a common defence industry and a common approach to arms exports. In so doing, we intend to help to create a European army. This will only work, however, if this goes hand in hand with efforts to coordinate our foreign policy. Those who are aware of the many things that happen each day also know what it means when we commit together now to assuming foreign policy responsibility and to standing up for our interests. However, this will only work if we improve the way in which we coordinate our development policy. Our neighbouring continent of Africa is a particularly important part of this.
This Treaty is about our future, and this applies to the fields of culture, education, research and mobility, as well as to sustainable development, climate and environmental protection and economic affairs. France and Germany want to and must set the pace in the areas of the future that are key to the prosperity of our European Union.
We know that we can only safeguard social cohesion if we are economically successful, if education plays a key role and if our culture accords us the freedom we need. We also know that time is of the essence and that the world does not sleep. Europe has been unable to keep its promise from the year 2000 to become the world’s leading continent. We must catch up in many areas. Our resolve to complete the European internal market is part of this. We must create a digital single market, and we must coordinate our research areas, in particular in the field of artificial intelligence. We must develop common platforms. These are just a few examples of the wide range of tasks that lie before us.
Achieving the integration towards a Franco‑German economic area with common rules, an objective stated by the Treaty, involves a great deal of work that remains to be done. This entails harmonising legislation in the respective areas. We want to consider the future of work together. We are capable of doing so much more to coordinate our labour market policy. Only in this way will we be able to achieve our objective, namely convergence between our economies. Driving the energy transition forward is part of this, of course. We are all aware of our different positions with respect to nuclear energy, renewable energies and coal. This is therefore a major task.
The border regions are to play a pioneering role in this common area of coexistence. I believe this to be a welcome chapter in this Treaty. From a French perspective, this is perhaps even an unusual chapter, because we, as federalists, are aware, of course, that we have Minister‑Presidents in Germany who have at least as much say as the Federal Government. France is structured differently, however.
It is no coincidence that we are here in Aachen today – in a city that not only stands for the history of our two countries, but also for the many cities in the border regions along our almost 500 km‑long border. The people in these regions should develop new forms of cooperation. They should tell us about their experiences and will be accorded special room for manoeuvre. They can change administrative regulations. You know what it means if not everyone who is generally responsible pays attention to such matters.
Ladies and gentlemen, these are only some objectives that we have set for ourselves. I believe that the Treaty of Aachen constitutes an excellent framework for this. However – and we must remind ourselves of this today – this does not mean that our work is done. Life must be breathed into the Treaty – day by day.
I know from my own experience how sluggish our responses to new challenges often are, how determinedly decisions are postponed and how often we claim that something is not possible right now. That is why the question as to whether this Treaty is based on the desire to bring it to life is crucial. On behalf of the Federal Government, especially on behalf of my colleagues who are here today, and also on behalf of those who are unable to be here today, allow me to say this: yes, we have an unswerving desire to do just that. I know that our federal states see this in just the same way. I know that countless organisations are waiting precisely for a signal such as this in order to be able to further Franco‑German cooperation in the spirit of Europe.
We will have to work hard to ensure that we continue to understand each other even better, not only linguistically, but also mentally and organisationally, that we treat each other out of respect for our different cultures and perceive this to be an enrichment of our own culture, and that we can get as many people on board as possible. I am aware that this is an arduous task. However, infinite enrichment lies at the end of this path. I would like to pledge here – and also on behalf of the entire Federal Government – that we will do this with all our heart and soul.
Long live the Franco‑German friendship!
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