France and Germany are expected to give details this weekend of an agreement to station hundreds of German troops on French soil for the first time since World War II, in a region the countries have squabbled over for centuries.
The historic move for troops to go to either Alsace or Lorraine is part of a 20-year joint military project to encourage reconciliation between the two countries.
Despite its symbolic significance for a country occupied by Nazi forces, the decision has so far prompted little more than curious and insouciant reaction from the French public.
“The prospect of seeing German troops settle in France again ... makes my grandfather splutter,” a Liberation reader said in a posting on the French newspaper’s Web site. “What an extraordinary symbol of Franco-German reconciliation.”
The decision is the latest development for the two countries’ 5,000-strong binational brigade, which has been on missions in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan.
Under the plan, which has been confirmed in Germany by Christian Democrat member of parliament Volker Kauder and others, a battalion of between 450 and 800 soldiers is to be based in Alsace or Lorraine.
More details are expected when German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy meet at the international Munich Security Conference this weekend.
It is known that Germany wants to station troops in the Alsatian towns of Comar and Illkirch-Graffenstaden, while France would like to see the battalion settle in Metz or Bitche in Lorraine.
The move would help secure the brigade’s future, which had appeared to be in doubt after France announced it would have to withdraw its troops from the main units stationed in the German towns of Donaueschingen, Mullheim and Immendingen.
Military cutbacks and a shake-up of regiments in France triggered the need to fill gaps at home at the expense of units based in Germany.
Germany has voiced opposition to the French withdrawal, prompting Sarkozy to suggest he might now leave a regiment in Donaueschingen. According to a German source, the decision to move German troops to France followed French pressure as the two countries discussed the brigade’s future.
Briefing the media after talks with German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung, Kauder said he did not expect the French withdrawal to happen sooner than the next three or four years.
The Alsatian spaper Dernieres Nouvelles d’Alsace reacted to the news about the binational brigade with the headine: “Sixty-four years after the end of the second world war German soldiers could now be stationed in Alsace once again.”