French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have signed a new Franco-German friendship treaty aimed at reinvigorating the European Union, which has been buffeted by the European debt crisis, mass migration and Brexit — as well as innumerable conflicting interests and priorities among its 28 member states.
France and Germany, the self-appointed guardians of European integration, have said that the new treaty is a response to the growing influence of populists in Austria, Britain, France, Italy, Hungary, Poland and other European countries who are seeking to slow, and even reverse, European integration by recouping national sovereignty from the European Union and transferring those powers back to national capitals.
The continental showdown, which threatens to split the European Union down the middle between Eurosceptic nationalists and Europhile globalists, will heat up in coming weeks, ahead of elections for the European Parliament in late May 2019.
The "Aachen Treaty" [Traité d'Aix-la-Chapelle; Vertrag von Aachen], signed on January 22 in the German city of Aachen, consists of 28 articles organized into seven chapters; both states commit to closer cooperation in a series of policy areas. The first eight articles, which encompass bilateral foreign and defense policy as well as the European Union, are the most ambitious and consequential items in the treaty:
- Article 1 commits both states to deepen their cooperation on European policy by "promoting an effective and strong common foreign and security policy and strengthening and deepening Economic and Monetary Union."
- Article 2 commits both states to "consult each other regularly at all levels before the major European deadlines, seeking to establish common positions and to agree coordinated speeches by their ministers. They will coordinate on the transposition of European law into their national law."
- Article 3 commits both states to "deepen their cooperation on foreign policy, defense, external and internal security and development while striving to strengthen Europe's autonomous capacity for action." The two states also pledge to "consult each other in order to define common positions on any important decision affecting their common interests and to act jointly in all cases where this is possible."
- Article 4 commits both states to "increasingly converge their objectives and policies on security and defense.... They lend themselves to mutual assistance by all means at their disposal, including armed forces, in case of armed aggression against their territories." They also "commit themselves to strengthening Europe's capacity for action and to jointly invest to fill its capacity gaps, thus strengthening the European Union and the North Atlantic Alliance." They "intend to promote the competitiveness and consolidation of the European defense industrial and technological base...
- Article 5 commits both states to "extend cooperation between their foreign affairs ministries, including their diplomatic and consular missions" and coordinate action at the United Nations and NATO.
- Article 8 commits both states to "cooperate closely in all organs of the United Nations." They will "closely coordinate their positions, as part of a wider effort of consultation among the EU member states sitting on the UN Security Council and in accordance with the positions and interests of the European Union." They will "do their utmost to achieve a unified position of the European Union in the appropriate organs of the United Nations."
Merkel, speaking in Aachen, noted that the city was home to Charlemagne (742-814), whom she described as "the father of Europe." She said that the new pact aims to build a Franco-German "common military culture" and "contribute to the creation of a European army." She added:
"Populism and nationalism are increasing in all our countries. For the first time, a country — Great Britain — is leaving the European Union. Worldwide, multilateralism is under pressure, be it in climate cooperation, in world trade, in the acceptance of international institutions or even in the United Nations. Seventy-four years — within one lifetime —after the end of the Second World War, what was seemingly self-evident is again being questioned.
"Therefore, first of all, this situation requires a new founding of our responsibility within the European Union — the responsibility of Germany and France in this European Union. Secondly, it requires a redefinition of the direction of our cooperation. Thirdly, it requires a common understanding of our international role, which can lead to joint action. For this reason, there is, fourthly, a need for shared similarities between our two peoples — in institutions, but above all in the daily living together of our peoples; and especially in the area close to the border....
Macron, also speaking in Aachen, added: "At a time when Europe is threatened by nationalism, which is growing from within, Germany and France must assume their responsibility and show the way forward." He said that the agreement is an "important moment" for showing that the bilateral relationship was "a bedrock which can relaunch itself... in the service of reinforcing the European project." Macron defended the European Union as a "shield against tumults of the world."
In France, Marine Le Pen, leader of the populist party National Rally (formerly the National Front), said that the treaty undermines national sovereignty and accused Macron of "selling off" France to the Germans. In an interview with the Geneva-based newspaper Le Temps, she said:
"Converging this much with Germany is an abandonment of sovereignty — a betrayal. If we had not alerted the public, this text would have been signed on the sly. The text provides in particular for the need to legislate in the event of obstacles to Franco-German cooperation. The French nation is one and indivisible and the law cannot be applied differently for the border regions with Germany. There is the letter of this treaty, but also the spirit. I do not want more convergence with Berlin, be it social or security matters, or in closer consultation in the UN Security Council. The permanent seat of France was hard-won during the Second World War and made France a major power. To call it into question would be to defeat what General de Gaulle did."