The relationship between France and Germany is one of the elements that affected European history the most, both in negative and positive terms. Indeed, when these countries were archenemies, Europe lived its darkest moments with the two World Wars, including these tensions among their primary causes, while their peaceful cooperation marked an era of prosperity culminated with the creation of the EU, which is often depicted as guided by the Franco-German engine.
The Aachen Treaty signed in January perfectly fit in the latter dimension, but what does it contain? And which are the possible implications for the future of the Old Continent?
Being an updating of the historical Elysee Treaty agreed in 1963, the text of the Aachen Treaty is mostly oriented to set out the guidelines for the bilateral cooperation between the two countries. However, the Treaty presents a strong symbolism regarding the future of Europe and the primary role that France and Germany aim to play in shaping it. As Macron stated, the shared ambition of the countries is to make Europe capable of “shield its people from the tumults of the world”, and since “Paris and Berlin love Europe” they will “continue to build it with force and determination”. Moreover, due to the issues the EU is facing – from Brexit to the rise of populism and nationalism – “France and Germany must assume their responsibility and show the way”. The position taken by the French President was shared by Chancellor Merkel who added that the two countries will “address the challenges of our time hand in hand”.
The determination of the two countries in being the leader of Europe’s future is explicitly affirmed in the text of the Treaty, especially in Chapter 2 which is related to “Peace, Security, and Development”. Within the whole chapter, the leitmotiv is absolutely clear: France and Germany will take the burden of increasing the “efficiency, coherence, and credibility” of the European power both at a political and practical level. The EU will be concerned in a second moment, mostly benefitting from the job already done by the Franco-German cooperation.
The contents of the Aachen Treaty did not remain stranger to EU’s attention, and EU Council’s President, Donald Tusk, expressed some relevant concerns. Intervening at the ceremony for the signing of the Treaty, Mr. Tusk firstly blessed it because “Europe needs a revival of faith in the meaning of solidarity and unity” and “enhanced Franco-German cooperation will serve this objective”, but he also made some remarks to the signatories. Indeed, later in his speech, he stressed the fact that “Europe needs a clear signal from Paris and from Berlin, that strengthened cooperation in small formats is not an alternative to the cooperation of all of Europe. That it is for integration, and not instead of integration”, closing with the admonition that he will “continue reminding it” to both Macron and Merkel.
In conclusion, the Aachen Treaty reveals a firm intention to revitalise the Franco-German engine that guided European integration for a long time. However, even if the final goal is an increase of the EU’s power and credibility, Brussels has shown concerns regarding the signatories’ will to take the lead of this process relegating the EU to a passive role.