France and Germany yesterday marked 50 years since a landmark treaty sealed their post-World War II reconciliation with a day of pomp, symbolism and celebration while papering over their differences.
French President Francois Hollande traveled to the snowy German capital to join German Chancellor Angela Merkel to fete the Elysee Treaty, inked in 1963, which heralded a new era of friendship between the former foes.
Eighteen years after the end of World War II, then-French president Charles de Gaulle and then-West German chancellor Konrad Adenauer on Jan. 22 formalized the cooperation that has since been a building block of European unity.
However, the half-century milestone comes amid strains in the Franco-German partnership and as the EU faces testing times over the eurozone debt crisis, and euroskepticism in Britain.
France and Germany’s foreign ministers jointly insisted in a German newspaper that Europe was “not the problem, but it must be the solution” and urged a modernization of the “European reflex” of former generations.
“We want to counter the danger of an erosion within the EU,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle wrote in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily.
“The drift towards populism and nationalism has grown alarmingly in the course of the European debt crisis. We are making a stand with a German-French commitment to Europe,” they added.
Launching a hectic lineup of events, Merkel joined Hollande at the French embassy in Berlin for a meeting with figures from both countries’ cultural scenes.
“I am a child of this friendship [between France and Germany] ... my first car was a 2CV and I studied in Paris,” German film director Wim Wenders said on arrival, referring to an old Citroen model.
“There’s a certain indifference [today], but that doesn’t surprise me after 50 years of marriage,” he added.
The Artist director Michel Hazanavicius was among the French representatives.
A joint session of both countries’ Cabinets took place later in the day, while French lawmakers traveled to Berlin to join their Bundestag counterparts for a debate in the Reichstag.
The day was to wrap up with a concert at the Berlin Philharmonic hall, including music by Beethoven and French composer Camille Saint-Saens.
Shortly after Hollande arrived in Berlin, he and Merkel sought to present a unified front during a televized debate with about 200 German and French youth, despite tensions from the euro crisis which has propelled Berlin into Europe’s driving seat.