The friendship treaty signed on January 22nd 2019 between Germany and France aims at establishing a closer cooperation in the fields of security, foreign politics and education. Furthermore, the parties agree to strengthen both the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. But what impact can one expect in a time of rising nationalism and changing threats?
After the two world wars, Germany and France have started the process of European integration. From that time on the two countries have been the backbone of the European Union. On January 22nd 1963 (Western) Germany and France signed the Élysée Treaty to further peace and cooperation. Now, exactly 56 years later, the Aachen Treaty was signed. However, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel are both in a weak position due to domestic problems. Angela Merkel, after more than one decade of strong government is now in decline. Because of her immigration policy she was facing internal criticism and has to leave office after this period. And Macron, after one year of triumphal success is now under severe pressure of the protests that are also supported by the middle class. Moreover, all over the world right-winged parties are on the rise. Therefore, the treaty’s impact is to be questioned.
Foreign politics & Diplomacy
Germany and France reinforce their cooperation in matters of foreign policy, defense, external and internal security and development. Germany and France aim at establishing common positions in all important decisions affecting their common interests and, whenever possible, acting together (Art. 3). Specifically, they agree to collaborate in all bodies of the United Nations (Art.8).
Contrary to Germany, France is permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. An extensive cooperation would lead to a bigger influence of Germany on the United Nations. Furthermore, the parties agreed that they will take a common effort to make also Germany a permanent member. Literally, translated from the German original version to English: “The admission of the Federal Republic of Germany as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council is a priority of German-French diplomacy”.
This is somewhat surprising as Germany used to claim a seat in the Security Council for the European Union and not for itself. It was only in November 2018 that the German Vice chancellor Olaf Scholz said that France should transfer its seat to the EU. However, in the meantime Germany achieved to have again a non-permanent seat for two years since January 1st.
Collective defense & Counter-terrorism
Although Germany and France are both NATO members, Art 4 obliges the parties to defend each other in case of an armed attack. This is exactly what Art. 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty (NATO) guarantees. It is interesting, why two NATO states pledge military allegiance to each other. It might be related to NATO facing both fundamental internal and external threats. Given the current political conditions in NATO member states like the US or Turkey, the loyalty and strength of the collective self-defense alliance is nowadays more than ever under discussion. Also, the connection between Trump and Putin and the Russian interventions in Ukraine are to be taken into account. Therefore, in this new confused international situation this French-German alliance within the NATO alliance fulfills an important function for the two countries.
As warfare has changed, also the means to collectively defend oneself have to change. An open military strike has become less probable. Current risk scenarios include hybrid warfare and terrorism. The definition of an “armed attack” as in Art. 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty does not include terrorism per se. The 9/11 attacks triggered a NATO response because the attack came from outside. If it had been a homegrown terrorist act, there would have been no obligation to collective defense. This example shows the need to catch up with the evolving threats.
The present treaty meets these requirements by intensifying the collaboration in external, internal and defense matters. As the best countermeasure is prevention, Germany and France want to co-operate more closely in intelligence.
Although the security approach expressed in the treaty is very comprehensive, one future means of warfare was not considered: the manipulation of the electorate’s opinion via social media by a domestic or foreign enemy. Obliging powerful social media enterprises like Facebook to remove such content is easier on the European or international level.
France and Germany aim at establishing a closer partnership between Europe and Africa. It is agreed to improve their cooperation in the areas of development of the private sector, regional integration, education and professional formation, empowerment and equal opportunities for women. This is to improve social and economic perspectives, sustainability, good governance, crisis prevention, conflict management, also via peacekeeping measures, and post-conflict rehabilitation. Germany and France will establish an annual meeting to discuss international development policy in order to intensify the coordination of policy planning and implementation (see Art. 7 for this paragraph).
This partnership has to be seen in front of France’s and Italy’s conflict of interests in Africa, especially in Libya where France tries to secure resources. Therefore, the “European-African Partnership” might actually disguise a French-African undertaking.
Germany and France agree to promote knowledge of each other’s language by increasing foreign language classes at school and via dual French-German university degrees and measures to promote excellence (Art. 10). Germany and France want to promote a common cultural and media space by funding exchange programs and cultural institutes (Art.9).
European Union & regional development
France and Germany are intensifying their cooperation in European Union politics. They are committed to an effective and strong common foreign and security policy and strengthen and deepen the economic and monetary union. Moreover, they declare to seek to complete the single market and to promote economic, fiscal and social convergence and sustainability in all dimensions (Art. 1).
However, this is a political wish that they cannot realize on their own because any agreement involving those fields has to be discussed in the European institutions and the member states. Second, as already mentioned, the two politicians do not have much power to push these goals.
Contrary to the pro-European declarations, some experts see the end of the European Union. Alessandro Mangia, professor of constitutional law at the Catholic University in Milan sees the possibility of a German-French hegemony in Europe when the United Kingdom has left as there would be no counterpart anymore.
Exactly to prevent big countries from having too strong influence, they are disproportionately underrepresented in terms of seats in the European parliament. If two countries merged this would also apply but still one cannot speak of a merger in this case.
A project worth mentioning is the empowerment of the German-French border region. The parties agree to transfer powers to the Eurodistrict and ensure sufficient funding to realize cross-border infrastructure. The project is interesting because it might become a role model for several border regions in Europe such as Trentino-Südtirol-Tirol.
Moreover, the parties commit themselves to fight the climate change, promote renewable energy supplies, a deeper economic integration and to fund research.
The establishment of a new defense alliance managed by a German-French Defense and Security Council with joint exercises and the option for other countries to join, shows the cracks within the conventional frameworks NATO and European Union.
If the real intent is to strengthen the European Union and not just to build a block within, Germany and France should avoid to shut themselves off from the other members. Rather, they could invite interested member states to join according to the idea of a Europe of different speeds. It is also possible that there emerges a trend towards blocks in the European Union like the Visegrád states, the Baltic states and Germany & France.
The political turnaround concerning the Security Council seat gives, contrary to the pro-European declarations, the impression of Germany striving for more influence rather than furthering the European integration.
The cooperation outlined in the treaty highly depends on the political environment and the leaders in charge. On the one hand the projects can serve as role models inspiring other countries. On the other hand, they might disappear together with its signatories Merkel and Macron. It might even look like this treaty was partially due to an effort to mutually strengthen the positions of the two troubled leaders.
In the end the treaty’s outcome will depend on the way it will be implemented in the national legal systems and how it will be executed.
 AFP, “Scholz will Frankreichs Sitz im UN-Sicherheitsrat in EU-Sitz umwandeln“, 28.11.2018, stern.de, Link: https://www.stern.de/news/scholz-will-frankreichs-sitz-im-un-sicherheitsrat-in-eu-sitz-umwandeln-8468726.html.
 Alessandro Mangia, “IL CASO/ Oggi Merkel e Macron firmano la fine dell’Unione Europea”, il sussidiario.net, 22.01.2019, Link: https://www.ilsussidiario.net/news/politica/2019/1/22/il-caso-oggi-merkel-e-macron-firmano-la-fine-dellunione-europea/1838152/?fbclid=IwAR3UjlDob9rUD1Dd90BXkCD7F-JuMpWW3nd_Tq1dWeIZpOLbsclQsvLZwFc.