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...they support the closest possible cooperation between their defense industries on the basis of mutual trust...both states will develop a common approach to arms exports with regard to joint projects. The two states will "establish the Franco-German Defense and Security Council as the political body to manage these reciprocal commitments. This Council will meet at the highest level at regular intervals."
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 6 commits both states to "further strengthen their bilateral cooperation in the fight against terrorism and organized crime, as well as their cooperation in the judiciary and in intelligence and police matters."
Article 7 commits both states to "establish an ever-closer partnership between Europe and Africa...with the aim of improving socio-economic prospects, sustainability, good governance and conflict prevention, crisis resolution, especially in the context of peacekeeping, and the management of post-conflict situations."
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." The two states also "undertake to continue their efforts to reform the United Nations Security Council." The admission of Germany as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council "is a priority of Franco-German diplomacy."
The remainder of the treaty pledges closer bilateral cooperation in the areas of artificial intelligence, climate change, cross-border issues, culture, economic affairs, education, energy, environment, health and sustainable development, among other issues.
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....
"We are committed to developing a common military culture, a common defense industry and a common line on arms exports. We want to make our contribution to the emergence of a European army."
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."
The treaty, however, is short on details and may end up being more symbolic than substantive. Merkel and Macron are both facing waning authority and it remains unclear whether they will have the necessary political capital to jump-start European integration. Germany is now looking toward the post-Merkel era, after she announced that she would step down as chancellor in 2021. Macron is grappling with a nationwide wave of anti-government protests that may yet bring down his government.
The treaty has been met with a mixture of anger and indifference.
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."
Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, leader of the sovereigntist party Debout La France! (Stand Up, France!), said:
"In no case should this Franco-German friendship treaty be a pretext for submission. Yet this appears to be the case.
"First, the method of the treaty. Faced with the democratic crisis that our country is going through, Emmanuel Macron is calling for a grand debate to involve citizens in the public life of our country. At the same time, however, the President of the Republic negotiated a treaty on the sly, even though it concerns conditions essential to the exercise of our national sovereignty. Neither the French people, nor the Parliament, nor the Constitutional Council were consulted.
"Second, the content of the treaty. In concrete terms, many stipulations of the treaty aim to share with Germany the sovereign powers and prerogatives of France. Indeed, if mutual defense is integrated into the treaty, France offers Germany the benefits of its military assets, which are envied around the world: (the world's fifth-largest military power, nuclear deterrence, etc.) (Article 4). France offers Germany access to its diplomatic network, the third-largest in the world after the United States and China (Article 5). France offers Germany indirect access to its permanent seat on the UN Security Council by coordinating their positions and coordinating their decisions (Article 8). France wants to give Germany a permanent seat on the UN Security Council by making this objective a diplomatic 'priority' (Article 8). For many reasons, this treaty undermines our national sovereignty.
"Finally, the lack of reciprocity. While Germany is taking advantage of France's strengths as a world power in diplomacy and defense, Germany offers no real counterpart. This is why the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle is not an act of Franco-German cooperation, but of submission of France to Germany.
"In reality, this one-sided treaty is an insult to the friendly relationship that France should maintain with Germany. In view of the concessions made by France to Germany, without compensation, the text signed today in Aix-la-Chapelle constitutes a true act of treason."
In Germany, Alexander Gauland and Alice Weidel, leaders of the populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD), issued a statement:
"The Aachen Treaty is a step in the wrong direction. Under the guise of European cooperation, the treaty is the result of the French interest of transferring and redistributing German power, to the detriment of the German taxpayers. It would also create a Franco-German special relationship that would alienate Germany from other European nations.
"AfD federal spokesman Alexander Gauland explains: French President Macron is unable to maintain order in his own country. The nationwide protests in France are never-ending. This failing president is imposing visions for the future of Germany. The EU is now deeply divided. A German-French special relationship will alienate us even further from other Europeans. This torpedoes exactly those European thoughts that Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Macron summon so intimately. They seem to suspect that this EU will disintegrate in the current form.
"Leader of the AfD in the German Bundestag, Dr. Alice Weidel, adds: This treaty is a unacceptable submission of an elected chancellor to a troubled president. Macron gets what he wants: Germany is committed, in the first article, to strengthen and deepen the Economic and Monetary Union, in other words, to complete the transfer and redistribution of wealth.
"Macron promises better and faster access to German taxpayer money in order to be able to continue the French inflationary policy and to fund his election promises. He has already laid out concrete plans for this and has received plenty of applause from established German parties.
"France should also be the main beneficiary in the planned intensified cooperation of the armed forces for the purpose of joint operations and in the consolidation of the European defense industry, which is also envisaged in the treaty. Article 4 of the treaty opens the door to new questionable foreign deployments in Africa and the further sell-off of German technology under the umbrella of French-dominated joint ventures.
"These policy points of French interests are embodied in the pathetic affirmation of obviousness and a plethora of symbolic measures and well-intentioned declarations of intent. Where this treaty, beyond general Europeanness, should also serve German interests, remains a mystery. This agreement furthers the breach with those EU member states that do not want a Franco-German 'European Superstate.' The Aachen Treaty is therefore not only superfluous, but counterproductive.'"