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Author: Clodagh Quain, Max Münchmeyer

On Tuesday, 22 January 2019, the German Federal Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, signed the Treaty of Aachen, which is both a renewal and an extension of the Élysée Treaty, signed by Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and President Charles de Gaulle on 22 January 1963 in Paris. The Treaty of Aachen marks the culmination of a year-long process of redefining the Franco-German relationship in light of new European challenges.

The new Treaty expresses the Franco-German commitment to deepen their cooperation in foreign policy, defence, external and internal security and development, while also strengthening Europe’s own capacity to act.

In the Treaty, France and Germany set out to strengthen the cooperation between their national armed forces to develop a common military culture and reinforce their current commitments on mutual defence. In addition to this, is a pledge to develop a joint arms industry with a common approach on arms exports.

In a new departure, both states commit to the proposal for a permanent seat for Germany on the UN Security Council, as a joint endeavour of Franco-German diplomacy. France and Germany pledge to advocate European interests and positions, which would require further coordination among states in the UN Security Council. The “Franco-German Security and Defence Council” is the political steering body for these shared commitments.

The Treaty puts emphasis on endowing regional authorities with the competences necessary to eliminate barriers to cross-border collaboration. A new Committee for Cross-Border Collaboration will be the primary forum for the achievement of this aim.

In addition, both states commit to the establishment of a Franco-German Council of Economic Experts with ten independent members who will periodically present economic recommendations to both governments.

The Treaty of Aachen has been criticised as lacking in detail and offering little in terms of concrete proposals. However, expectations that France and Germany would set out a detailed roadmap for the Future of Europe in Aachen were always misplaced, because Franco-German dialogue on European reform over the course of 2018 has shown that while both countries may agree in principle on a general direction for Europe, considerable differences remain when it comes to the detail. The Treaty reflects this and is a sign that incrementalism will continue to be the modus operandi for the development of Franco-German cooperation.

The proposal to prioritise a UN Security Council seat for Germany stands out as the most substantial element of the Treaty, a boon for German interests. If Brexit occurs, there will be only one EU Member State on the UN Security Council, further underlying the value of France’s permanent seat. France and Germany have differed in their approach regarding the degree of representation of the EU and its priorities at the Security Council. The election of Germany as a non-permanent member for 2019-20 could provide some scope for France and Germany to jointly project their influence within the Security Council.

However, some of the biggest and most controversial internal European issues, including migration, Eurozone reform and taxation, are not even mentioned in the Treaty, though they were touched on in the June 2018 Meseberg Declaration, in which Chancellor Merkel and President Macron spelled out their European priorities. This may reflect the highly controversial nature of these issues in the current political climate of both countries.

The Treaty alone is unlikely to provide the impetus needed for a more integrated Europe especially in light of more Eurosceptic governments, such as those in Poland and Italy, who are crafting an alternative vision of European integration.

In his speech at the signing ceremony in Aachen, the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, stressed that “Europe needs a clear signal from Paris and from Berlin, that strengthened cooperation in small formats is not an alternative to the cooperation of all of Europe. That it is for integration, and not instead of integration”. While this renewal of Franco-German relations is promising, France and Germany will have to build on the ambitions set out in the Treaty in an open and inclusive manner to counterbalance perceptions of Franco-German dominance.

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