Watching the celebration of Franco-German friendship this past week in Ludwigsburg should give anyone a reason to believe in the power of reconciliation in international affairs. Both Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande testified to the singular importance of this particular bilateral relationship as both a symbol and an example of overcoming the dangers of war and building bridges of friendship.
Indeed, Franco-German relations have become a lesson for many other regions of the world to learn how one can lay aside the roots of conflict and clashes of armies. Speeches on the 50th anniversary of de Gaulle’s address to the youth of Germany in Ludwigsburg were also testimony to why that accomplishment was able to be achieved. The purposes of building Europe transcended the purposes of Franco-German conflicts in the past.
Of course, there were references to the fact that Germany and France continue to struggle and argue about the path forward for Europe. The battle over the guts of the fiscal policies which will further guide the EU remains undecided. Yet those issues were set aside during the celebration of a half-century of efforts to strengthen the Franco-German partnership. When Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer met on that same spot in 1962 for de Gaulle to make a major address to the youth of Germany, they represented a very different Germany and a very different France facing each other less than twenty years after the worst war Europe had ever experienced.
Today the two neighbors look across the Rhine at each other in a Europe which has been enormously transformed and represents an environment in which so much of those relations are taken for granted. Along with that transformation comes a much more complicated network of connections that do not eliminate conflicts or arguments, even while the interdependence of France and Germany within an interdependent European Union has become both wider and deeper than ever before.
The continuing arguments and debates over the future course of the euro are today’s demonstration of the same type of arguments that were started six decades ago over the building of the very institutions that were to become the basis of the European Union. Back then the challenges that nations were facing in creating a basis for integration policies were just as difficult, but not many people would have perhaps believed then that Europe would be having the kind of arguments it is having today. Indeed many would have not expected Europe to be as far along as it is in the larger framework – beyond Cold War divisions, with a common currency and a far greater set of achievements in actually implementing what was seen as more dream than reality. This is all the more underscored when we look beyond Europe into the turmoil of other places. Apart from the clashes throughout the entire Middle East, particularly the bloody civil war in Syria, we see the continuation of wars and threats of war in Africa and now in East Asia, as China and Japan confront each other over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.