October 16, 2016

Germany and France: from Historic Opposition to the “Engine” of European Integration

Ivan Sichen, Military and Political Expert

Current disagreements in the EU on the common policy in the spheres of politics, economics and security, have been undermining its unity, including in the questions of supporting Ukraine or strategic deterring Russia. This problem has been especially sharp since Great Britain's decision to withdraw from the EU, which caused Eurosceptic moods in other European countries.

Moscow is actively trying to take advantage of it and to implement its plans to create preconditions for lifting the EU sanctions against Russia, as well as to strengthen its positions in Europe in the long term. For this end, V. Putin's regime purposefully takes measures for further splitting the EU, weakening and disintegrating the united Europe.

In such circumstances, the main pillar of the EU and its consolidating factor remains the Germany-France tandem, in fact, the European Union's founders and leading countries. It is their unity and joint actions in support of European values that the fate of the EU will depend on.

Germany and France are participating in the “Normandy” negotiation process


It is equally important for Ukraine, trying to counteract the armed aggression of the Russian Federation, and for one of its main allies in this confrontation — the EU. This refers first of all to Germany and France, acting as the central initiators and conductors of the European Union's policy of sanctions against the Russian Federation, and participating in the “Normandy” negotiation process to resolve the armed conflict in the Donbas.

According to European experts, essentially important in this context should be creation of a strategic alliance of France and Germany with the maximum integration of the positions of the two countries in key sectors of European politics, economy and security. At the same time, they need to reach a consensus in their point of view on the prospects of the development of the EU. Especially since they already have experience in solving more significant historical problems in their relations. In its previous publications, the Independent Analytical Centre for Geopolitical Studies “Borysfen Intel” did mention the experience of such a resolving in the relations between Germany and Poland, and Israel. However, in the case of Germany and France, these problems are quite different, which determines their relevance as another example of the success of the process of European reconciliation.


Thus, from the historical point of view, the most acute problems that have caused a long non-perception and even hatred between the two peoples were the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, the First World War of 1914-1918 and the Second World War of 1939-1945. All those wars had led to a massive loss of life among the German and French peoples and to total destructions in the war zones and to long-term territorial disputes between the two countries. First of all, this concerns Alsace and Lorraine, who several times had changed “hands” from Germany to France.

Thus, Alsace and Lorraine (before then — individual state formations) became part of the French Kingdom in the middle of the 1600s. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, they were captured and then annexed by the newly created German Empire, which thereby strengthened its western borders, opened a straight plain road to Paris between the Ardennes and the Vosges mountains. It is this area, that became one of the main arenas of hostilities between Germany and France during the First World War. In total, from both sides in this sector of the front were lost about half a million military servicemen (in particular, at the memorial cemetery near Verdun alone, 200 thousand French were buried). However, as we know, the First World War ended in Germany's complete defeat, which was a real geopolitical disaster for it.

The territorial losses of Germany under the Versailles Treaty of 1919

Under the Versailles Treaty of June 29, 1919, Germany not only lost Alsace and Lorraine, which went to France (besides, Eupen-Malmedy went to Belgium, — Posen /Poznan/ and Danzig /Gdansk/ and a part of Upper Silesia — were given to Poland, Schleswig went to Denmark), but was forced to pay a very heavy for it reparations to its Western opponents in the equivalent of about 100 thousand tons of gold. Besides, Germany was deprived of the right to have a full army (it was allowed a minimum number of ground troops), aviation, armored vehicles and navy.

In fact, the idea of countering the crippling terms of the Versailles Treaty was that main factor which helped the Nazis led by Hitler to come to power in Germany in the 1930s. In fact, it was the main reason for the Second World War, when Germany tried to take revenge in the confrontation with France and its allies. As a result — in 1939 Germany by force of arms regained territory handed over to Poland and in 1940 — those given to Belgium and France, including Alsace-Lorraine... How does this differ from Germany and France's ideas of Russia's returning to Ukraine the occupied territories in a peaceful way, for which today there are no prospects so far?

Later, after the turn of the tide in World War II as a result of the German forces' defeat at Stalingrad and Kursk, the future of Germany and the occupied and annexed territories was decided on at the conference of anti-Hitler coalition (USSR, USA, Great Britain, and then France) in Tehran (1943), Yalta and Potsdam (1945). So, among other things, as part of these measures were taken decision to return Alsace-Lorraine to France.


Based on the experience and the results of the previous three armed conflicts between Germany and France, in the first years after the Second World War, Paris had an extremely radical position on the future arrangement of Germany. It was against restoration of Germany's economic potential, considering it a strategic threat to France's security. Moreover, during the international negotiations on the principles of building the new German state (September-October 1945 in London and April-June, 1946 in Paris), France insisted on downsizing Germany by separating it from the Rhineland, the Ruhr and the Saar.

Of course, it did not add to improving the relations between the two peoples. However, over time this situation began to change gradually. And the main role was played by the restoration of trade and economic relations between the German territories, entered into the western zone of occupation. In turn, this led to improvement of political relations between the parties.

Creation of the West and East Germany
in 1949

Conditions for this arose in 1949 after the formation of the West German state — the Federal Republic of Germany. Cooperation between France and Germany began being established already at the level of the states. The main driving force in addressing this issue was the profound motivation and determination of the Federal German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and French President Charles de Gaulle to reach the German-French reconciliation. It was they who laid the foundations of European integration, which were later implemented within the framework of the European Union.

The first step in this direction was the creation in May 1950 of the European Coal and Steel Community, as the coordinating body of the relevant industries of Germany and France. Due to this, were laid strategic guarantees of the impossibility of new wars between the two countries as a result of their mutual economic interests having come to a whole new level. The European Coal and Steel Community was declared open to other European countries. So, in 1951, the new economic structure was joined by Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Luxembourg.

Another determining factor in the development of relations between Germany and France was the FRG's joining NATO in 1955. This paved the way for the development of German-French cooperation in the military sphere, both bilaterally and within the framework of the Alliance. In particular, already in 1956, Germany and France began negotiations on cooperation in development and production of weapons.

At the same time, to further strengthen economic ties between Germany and France, and in the whole of Western Europe, in 1957, on the initiative of the two countries, the members of the European Coal and Steel Community formed the European Economic Community (EEC or the so-called Common Market) and the European Atomic Energy Community. In 1959, the EEC member-states created the European Parliament — first an advisory, and then a legislative body.

Another catalyst for rapprochement of Germany and France and, in general, of European integration, became a “cold” war between the USSR and the West, in particular, the Berlin crisis of 1958-1959. France, along with other Western European countries willingly supported the FRG and that restrained Moscow's aggression. In fact, it is the realization of the common threat from the Soviet Union, in fact — from Russia, that was the reason for the German and the French having understood the necessity of the historical reconciliation, and of building a fundamentally new partnership between their countries.

The signing of the Élysée Treaty
on January 22, 1963

As a result, January 22, 1963 a so-called Elysée Treaty was signed between Germany and France, which laid the foundation of such relations. The Agreement provided for regular meetings and consultations at the level of the highest state leaders of the two countries to coordinate their actions in the field of foreign and defence policy, deepening of cooperation in the cultural sphere.

Despite the signing of the Agreement and the above-mentioned rapprochement between Germany and France, there still remained a number of contradictions of military-political and economic nature. First of all, it concerned their perception of the United States and the Soviet Union. For example, while the Federal Republic of Germany saw the USA as the main guarantee of its safety and welcomed the growing US military presence in Europe, France was against it and was leading a policy more independent from the United States of America.

At the same time, due to problems with the creation of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), and its becoming part of the Soviet bloc, as well as the sharp ideological differences, the FRG and the USSR at that time were actually bitter rivals. In turn, France was trying to establish a partnership with the Soviet Union. In 1966, as a result of the deepening differences with the USA and the rapprochement with Russia, France decided to withdraw from NATO's military structures, which also led to stagnation of the military cooperation between Paris and Berlin.

In fact, such cooperation was restored at the previous, and even at a higher level only in 1980. In this regard, the key event was the creation in January 1988 of the German-French Council of Defense and Security on the basis of a supplement to the Elysée Treaty. Besides, a German-French Brigade was formed in 1993 and made the basis of the Eurocorps.

The Treaty of Maastricht (1992)

A new problem factor in relations between Germany and France was the unification of Germany in 1990, perceived by Paris as a potential threat to its security and interests due to the significant strengthening of the German state. In particular, as a result of the unification of the FRG with the GDR, the population increased to 80 million — compared with 60 million in France. The economic potential of the united Germany grew nearly by a quarter.

This problem was actually solved in February 1992 after the signing of the Maastricht Treaty (Maastricht, Netherlands) on the establishment of the European Union on the basis of the European Economic Community. Within the EU, the FRG and France have finally eliminated the grounds for the outbreak of an armed conflict, both between the two countries and within the United Europe.

Although this, of course, has not completely eliminated all the disagreements between Germany and France. They are still observed today. In particular, this applies to the different approaches of the two countries to solving the economic problems of the European Union. Thus, Germany is the main initiator of the policy of fiscal austerity in the EU. In contrast, France is in favor of a more liberal economic and financial policy of social orientation. France and Germany have quite notable contradictions in their relations due to the two countries' struggle for leadership in Europe.


Of course, such differences do weaken the unity of the EU, but in no way they affect the foundations of the European Union. This is evidenced by the unity of the EU, especially Germany and France, on the extension of sanctions against Russia for its aggression against Ukraine, as well as the demonstration of readiness for the introduction of new restrictions in respect of the Russian Federation, this time also because of the “Syrian” problem.