Madam President of the French National Assembly,
Madam President of the German Bundestag,
Mr President, dear Emmanuel,
Members of Parliament,
Ladies and gentlemen,
„The coming together of the nations of Europe requires the elimination of the age-old opposition of France and Germany.“
Robert Schuman spoke this sentence in 1950.
With his words, he foresaw the essence of what Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer would confirm twelve years later with the signing of the Élysée Treaty:
- the overcoming of a centuries-long history of enmity between Germany and France
- the dawn of a new era of cooperation between partners that, over the years, would become inseparable friends; cooperation that would become a brotherly bond
It’s so easy to say this today.
However, when the Élysée Treaty was signed 60 years ago, the Second World War, which had been unleashed by Germany and had brought unspeakable devastation, had ended not even 20 years earlier. Its wounds had not been fully attended to – let alone healed.
How could they have been, considering the crimes that had been perpetrated against humanity?
We Germans are therefore all the more moved when we think of the human generosity the French people showed – malgré tout, or in spite of all the justified doubts – by extending a hand of reconciliation to us.
This historic gesture of reconciliation marked the beginning of European unification.
It symbolises in a very special way France’s role as the “nation indispensable”, or indispensable nation, for building our united Europe.
France is and remains indispensable today.
For this, we Germans are deeply grateful. And that is why, first and foremost, I must say:
Merci, Monsieur le President – merci de tout cœur!
Merci à vous, nos frères et sœurs français, pour votre amitié!
This friendship truly means a great deal to us.
More than that, for us Germans, France’s willingness to reach out to us, and the 60 years of peace that our countries have enjoyed since then, lead to a special responsibility on our part.
- a responsibility to strengthen what we have in common and to never again permit any divisions to arise between us
- a responsibility to nurture our interest in one another and deepen our knowledge of one another: of our respective culture, literature, art and language
It is in this spirit that millions of citizens in our countries have formed bonds of friendship, through town twinnings, youth exchanges and countless personal encounters.
I witnessed how close these ties are when I served as the German Plenipotentiary. I saw this during many visits – which included, by the way, the very place we are today, the Sorbonne. And in my home town of Hamburg I am reminded of this, as well, because the establishment of the city’s Franco-German Secondary School belongs in this period.
- Last but not least, we Germans and French have a shared responsibility to make sure that our partnership helps build a peaceful and united Europe.
As we work to this end, we are guided by the legacy of those who reached out to each other across the graves of the Second World War: Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer, Georges Pompidou and Willy Brandt, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and Helmut Schmidt, François Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl.
For these men from generations that had experienced the war first-hand, it was particularly this “having lived through it” that drove them to leave all nationalistic idealisation behind, once and for all.
It is their original peace project that has reached completion today – to our collective benefit.
For war between our nations, between the members of the European Union, has become inconceivable to us, who have been born into peace and freedom.
This thought is so alien to us that some among us even fear its absence could lessen our resolve to drive forward the European project.
But this would be fundamentally wrong – indeed, it would be grossly negligent!
The challenges we Europeans currently face have changed in a radical way.
Our efforts today need no longer focus on avoiding or preventing a war of infighting within our Union;
Rather, we must work to preserve and defend our European peace order and our values – warding off tendencies towards disunity within our Union, but above all against threats it faces from outside.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is what the European peace project is about at this profound turning point that we are experiencing today.
The Franco-German friendship constitutes a solid foundation also for this new European peace project.
Because our friendship stands for:
- a united Europe and a peace order that is built on the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations
- the respect for fundamental rights and freedoms of each and every individual, as set out by your predecessors, the representatives of the Assemblée nationale of the year of the Revolution in 1789
- Rousseau’s key idea of the Enlightenment that sovereignty resides in the people and – building on this – Kant’s idea that the rule of law constitutes a bulwark against arbitrary actions by the state
- for democratic parliamentary rule, which 175 years ago – having arrived from France – first put down roots in German soil, albeit too shallow ones, initially
- and, last but not least, for the concept of societies that are both liberal and built on solidarity.
European societies, as it were, that combine each individual’s own responsibility with respect for each and every citizen.
Over the years, the Greeks, the Spanish and the Portuguese all joined our community after having shaken off their respective dictatorships.
Countries in northern and western Europe joined, having been drawn to what a unified Europe had accomplished.
And finally, after the Iron Curtain was torn down, we were joined by the nations of Central and Eastern Europe. Their quest for freedom and their desire for democracy have enlivened and enriched our Union.
Together, we have successfully driven back the law of the strong with the strength of the law – both in the European Union and throughout the European continent.
Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, however, has fundamentally brought this continental consensus to an abrupt end. President Putin has set his sights on imperial objectives. He wants to move borders by use of force. And for this, the men and women of Ukraine are paying a terrible price.
But Putin’s imperialism will not prevail.
It is us who together with our friends and partners will write the next chapters of European history.
We will not allow Europe to fall back into an age when violence took the place of politics, an age when our continent was torn apart by hatred and national rivalries.
The decisions we took a few days ago, namely to provide Ukraine with armoured infantry fighting vehicles, armoured reconnaissance vehicles and additional air defence systems, in close coordination with one another as well as with our American friends, are strong evidence of this.
And we will continue to support Ukraine – for as long as it takes and to the extent that is necessary. Together, as Europeans – in defence of our European peace project.
This shared desire and this determination are significant steps towards a sovereign Europe.
Just like what you, dear Emmanuel, called for and mapped out a little over five years ago, here in this very place. I am most grateful to you for that.
Today, we are working in tandem with a view to strengthening Europe’s sovereignty.
We are working in a targeted way to pool our strengths where nation states have become less able to assert themselves on their own – so as to safeguard our values in the world and to protect our democracies against the forces of authoritarianism.
But also when it comes to the race to develop modern technologies, securing access to raw materials, and in the sphere of our energy supplies and space programmes.
European sovereignty does emphatically not mean relinquishing or replacing national sovereignty.
But preserving and strengthening it in a rapidly changing world.
New centres of power are emerging.
A number of very different countries and political systems are competing for power, influence and ways to strengthen their position in the future.
We may be about to encounter an even more fundamental turning point.
The shift to a multipolar world, a development to which we cannot respond by withdrawing into our respective national shells.
A world in which we cannot survive as a small, meek Europe that gives in to national egotism, opening divides between east and west, north and south.
It was Valéry Giscard d’Estaing who, when asked where he saw the borders of a united Europe, responded by saying something to the effect that to the north and to the west, there is a natural border that is the Atlantic, and to the south there is the Mediterranean. But to the east, the border is entirely open and undetermined.
That is why it was so important that, last summer, we as the European Union said with one voice:
Yes, Ukraine and Moldova are a part of our European family, and at some point Georgia will be, too.
Yes, the six countries of the Western Balkans are a part of the family – and have been for some time, if we’re being honest.
They all belong in an enlarged European Union, a European Union that has the capacity to bring lasting peace to our continent and that is capable of action at the geopolitical level.
We have a long way to go until we get there.
As during previous rounds of EU enlargement, we must make sure this enlarged Union remains capable of action, not least through institutional reform.
But first and foremost, a geopolitical European Union must grow to become a strong, credible actor on the world stage.
Last summer, at Charles University in Prague – a Central European sister of the Sorbonne – I made a few proposals in this regard.
- In the sphere of security policy, for example.
Specifically, I spoke about creating more synergy among our defence efforts, establishing closer cooperation among our armaments industries, and building up our European capabilities in a coordinated way.
That is why it is so important for us to jointly develop the next generation of European fighter jets and battle tanks, in Germany and in France, in cooperation with our Spanish friends.
- It is just as important for us to make the European economic and social model fit for the future.
Without, it must be said, being taken in by those who preach the gospel of deglobalisation and decoupling.
Both would set us on a track to endangering our prosperity, which after all is based on openness, free trade and innovative and fair competition. At the same time, we will no longer close our eyes to the fact that, in the past, we occasionally made ourselves too reliant on individual countries, suppliers and customers.
That emphatically also applies to us in Germany.
The way we Europeans will respond to this is that we will diversify, so as to reduce risky, unilateral dependencies.
This includes securing the supply of raw materials and energy, and strengthening our trade relations all around the world – with partners in North and South America, in the Indo-Pacific and in Africa.
It includes making investments that will turn the European Union into a global leader for cutting-edge technologies – and into the world’s first climate-neutral continent.
This, too, ladies and gentlemen, is part of a sovereign, geopolitical Europe.
And I am happy, dear Emmanuel, that we agree on these objectives.
Because, as in the past, cooperation between our two countries will be key:
- to provide impetus in a united Europe;
- to be the ones who overcome differences between one another and among the countries of Europe.
I have no doubt that, together, we will accomplish this.
We’ll do so not least thanks to your unshakable commitment to Europe, dear Emmanuel – and thanks to our friendship.
The often-referred-to “Franco-German engine” works especially well – not only when it purrs along quietly and almost indiscernibly, as is often the case.
The Franco-German engine is a machine that is designed to reach compromises – and although it’s well oiled, its inner workings are sometimes loud and require hard work.
It is not fuelled by fawning compliments or empty symbolism.
Rather, it runs on our firm determination to time and again convert controversies and different interests into mutually aligned action.
Because we know that if we manage to arrive at compromises –
despite our differently structured state and economic systems,
despite our different political institutions, and
despite very different historical memories, traditions as nation states and geographies – then the solutions we forge can also work for others.
And because we know that
only with our counterpart at our side – as our friend and closest partner, as a couple fraternel – can our own country also have a good future.
During the pandemic, it was the reaching of a Franco-German understanding that laid the foundation for the European Recovery Fund.
Currently, too, we are helping each other out, with the supply of electricity from Germany to France and, vice versa, of gas from France to Germany.
This is how we are translating our brotherly bond into practical, everyday solidarity.
- Daily coordination between our governments serves this purpose, as well.
- As do all-nighters in Brussels.
- And our Ministerial Councils – like today’s – that work to achieve concrete outcomes for our citizens.
Come to think of it,
it may well be this everyday quality and the matter-of-course character of the Franco-German relationship and how this has become second nature to us that makes our relationship so exceptional and unique.
Let us use the fact that we are inseparable friends, let us use our brotherly bond to jointly, together with our European partners, shape both the present and the future of our continent.
Long live the Franco-German friendship – in a strong and united Europe!
Vive l’amitié fraternelle entre nos peuples!