January 23, 2019
The importance of the Aachen Treaty
There are many ways to look at the Aachen Treaty, signed by Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron yesterday. The Economist dismissed it as a museum piece, an unnecessary and counterproductive move in a EU in which France and Germany should give up on their ambition to be the engine or, as critics would say, the directoire of European integration. The German media tended to emphasise the united front Berlin and Paris were putting up against populism. On the whole the treaty was welcomed as a validation of the continuing importance of the bilateral relationship for both countries.
Georg Blume writes that it was the obvious ease of the relationship between the two leaders that was most impressive, rather than the symbolism of the ceremony or the treaty's content, with its numerous provisions and declarations of intent ranging from defence, economics, education and border regions.
French commentary was on the whole even more critical. The strong symbolism of the Aachen Treaty is in stark contrast to its weak content, writes Dominique Seux in Les Échos. It is only a pale shadow of what Emmanuel Macron evoked in his speech at the Sorbonne thirteen months ago. Then Macron raised the bar high to force Berlin to agree on an objective for Europe over the next decade - but Germany failed to respond as it had other problems to deal with. The result, he writes, is a treaty with hardly any reference to the eurozone in the text. In that sense it sounds more like the end of an era rather than the beginning of a new one, so Seux.
And how to counteract the avalanche of fake news the Aachen treaty provoked on the far right? The French government chose to publish a communique rejecting each of the fictional claims with a capitalised NON and countering the claims with another capitalised LA VÉRITÉ (the truth). Commentators wondered whether this was a wise move. It is certainly not one without risks, warns Cécile Cornudet. In an angry post-truth world such as ours, such a brutally worded response to brutally wrong claims could backfire. And, by highlighting the claims in this fashion, it pushes the fake news right into the electoral campaign for the European elections.
We believe that the best way to look at the treaty was the one suggested in Aachen by Merkel herself. Just like its landmark predecessor of 1963, the Aachen Treaty is a tool. To what extent it will be used, and become an effective instrument for bilateral Franco-German and future EU policy, will depend entirely on the future governments in charge in each country. As long as the joint influence of France and Germany outweighs any impact either country could exert individually in Europe, the relationship will continue to prevail.