Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Garitan

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Garitan

At a meeting of the French and German ministers in Paris last month, French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared to be more united than ever. Hollande emphasized the importance of agreeing on major foreign policy issues, highlighting the alignment of the two countries on issues in Iran, Syria, and Africa.

Concerning Ukraine, the two leaders condemned the Ukrainian officials responsible for violence and excessive force, and encouraged sanctions. In another instance, a Franco-German squad will be sent to Mali to assist in the formation of the future Malian army.

This recent display of solidarity is a relatively new phenomenon – the relationship between Hollande and Merkel has not always been so positive. Their approaches to European policy are quite different: France speaks of Europe in general terms, while Merkel takes a more pragmatic approach, attacking each problem individually.

Last year, the two openly disagreed over the best approach to European economic recovery. While Merkel pushed for a longer-term “political union” among the member states, Hollande believed in the effectiveness of short-term measures to restart the economy and tackle unemployment.

In addition to Hollande and Merkel’s disagreements, the German people also have little support for Hollande and his policies, according to a May 2013 report in the New York Times.

The amitié franco-allemand – the “Franco-German friendship”— dates back nearly seventy years to the end of the Second World War and is crucial to the European Union.

After the war, the reconciliation of France and Germany was one of the key conditions for peace in Europe. Since 1945, various initiatives have aimed to bring the two countries closer together.

The Treaty of Rome, which created the European Community in 1957, materialized the cooperation between France and Germany as a condition and motor of the European structure. The treaty put in place a schedule of regular meetings at all levels – State leaders, Ministers, etc.

In 1988, a number of Franco-German political bodies were established, solidifying and reinforcing the Franco-German relationship. The creation of the Conseil franco-allemand de défense et de sécurité (CFADS), Conseil Economique et Financier franco-allemand (CEFFA), Conseil Franco-allemand de l’Environnement (CFAE), among others, allowed the two countries to collaborate on important issues such as national defense, economics, and the environment.

The Conseil des ministres franco-allemend (CMFA) was created in 2003, the year of the 40th anniversary of the Traité de l’Elysée – a “Treaty of Friendship” signed between former Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and former President Charles de Gaulle. The Council meets once or twice per year, and its Secretary-General supports and promotes concrete initiatives for Franco-German cooperation.

Today, the amitié franco-allemand has not lost its importance. French and German citizens make up 30% of the European population, granting the two countries a total representation of 173 deputies in Parliament. Interestingly, the official seat of the European Parliament is in Strasbourg, which is considered to be a symbol of reconciliation between France and Germany, having been a contested region in the past.

The French-German Agenda 2020, adopted in February 2010, marked a new stage in the rapprochement of the two countries. The plan outlined eighty precise objectives, spanning six major areas, notably: economy and finance, climate and energy, innovation and research, foreign policy, security, and defense.

France and Germany’s business and economic ties are nearly as significant as their political ones. In 2012, Germany was both France’s primary customer and supplier, making up 16.5% of the Hexagon’s exports and 17.3% of imports.

In 2012, there were nearly 2,200 French businesses in Germany, accounting for 400,000 jobs. For France, Germany was the country’s largest foreign investor in 2009-10. It fell to second in 2011, but German business still accounted for 350 thousand jobs in France.

The cultural ties between the two countries are also strong. One in five German students studies French, and approximately 15% of French students study German. The Université Franco-Allemande (UFA) – created in 1997 – grants bi-national diplomas to over 1,000 students every year. For young people, the Office Franco-Allemande pour la Jeunesse (OFAJ) has provided activities and exchanges since 1963.

Outside of the formally structured organizations and political bodies, informal meetings between the countries’ leaders reinforce personal ties, and allow the two to standardize their positions on key issues.

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy seemingly understood the value of the Franco-German alliance and the relationship with Chancellor Angela Merkel. The two did not always see eye to eye, particularly on economic issues.

Despite their disagreements, however, the pair continues to meet even after Sarkozy officially distanced himself from the European political scene. Sometimes referred to as “Merkozy,” the two met on February 28 for one hour in private at the chancellery.

In the coming years, Hollande and Merkel will face the challenge of working together to find common ground and to institute successful policies, in order build a stronger, more united Europe.