Franco-German relations

Franco-German relations

Franco-German relations



The relations between France and Germany is embodied in a cooperation called Franco-German Friendship (French: Amitié franco-allemande; German: Deutsch-Französische Freundschaft). This came about after 1945, when a French–German enmity between the two countries ended.

Especially in the context of the European Union, the cooperation between the countries reaches immense coordination and collaboration. Even though France has at times been eurosceptical in outlook, especially under President Charles de Gaulle, Franco-German agreements and cooperations have always been key to furthering the ideals of European integration.

In recent times, France and Germany are among the most enthusiastic proponents of the further integration of the EU. They are sometimes described as the "twin engine" or "core countries" pushing for moves.

Country comparison

France France Germany Germany
Population 65,350,000 80,219,695
Area 674,843  km2 (260,558 sq mi) 357,021  km2 (137,847 sq mi )
Population Density 116/km2 (301/sq mi) 229/km2 (593/sq mi)
Capital Paris Berlin
Largest City Paris – 2,234,105 (12,161,542 Metro) Berlin – 3,510,032 (5,964,002 Metro)
Government Unitary semi-presidential constitutional republic Federal parliamentary constitutional republic
Official language French (de facto and de jure) German (de facto and de jure)
Main religions 58% Christianity, 31% non-Religious, 7% Islam,
1% Judaism, 1% Buddhism, 2% Other
67.07% Christianity, 29.6% non-Religious, 5% Islam, 0.25% Buddhism,
0.25% Judaism, 0.1% Hinduism, 0.09% Sikhism
Ethnic groups 84% French, 7% other European, 7% North African, Other Sub-Saharan African,
Indochinese, Asian, Latin American and Pacific Islander.
80% Germans, 5% Turks, 5% other Europeans, 10% Other
GDP (PPP) $2.257 trillion, $35,613 per capita $3.099 trillion, $37,896 per capita
GDP (nominal) $2.712 trillion, $42,793 per capita $3.577 trillion, $43,741 per capita
Expatriate populations 110,881 French citizens lived in Germany on Dec. 31, 2012[1] 95,060 German citizens lived in France in 2009[2]
Military expenditures $62.5 billion $46.7 billion


Both France and Germany track their history back to the time of Charlemagne, whose vast empire included most of the area of both modern-day France and Germany – as well as the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, and northern Italy.

The death of Charlemagne's son Louis the Pious and the following partition of the Frankish Empire in the 843 Treaty of Verdun marked the end of a single state. While the population in both the Western and Eastern kingdoms had relative homogenous Gallo-Romanic and Old (Low) German language groups respectively, Middle Francia was a mere strip of a mostly blurring yet culturally rich language-border-area, roughly between the rivers Meuse and Rhine - and soon partitioned again. After the 880 Treaty of Ribemont, the border between western and eastern kingdom remained almost unchanged for some 600 years. Germany went on with a centuries-long attachment with Italy, while France grew into deeper relations with England.

Despite a gradual cultural alienation during the High and Late Middle Ages, social and cultural interrelations remained present through the preeminence of Latin language and Frankish clergy and nobility.

France and Habsburg

The later Emperor Charles V, a member of the Austrian House of Habsburg, inherited the Low Countries and the Franche-Comté in 1506. When he also inherited Spain in 1516, France was surrounded by Habsburg territories and felt under pressure. The resulting tension between the two powers caused a number of conflicts such as the War of the Spanish Succession, until the Diplomatic Revolution of 1756 made them allies against Prussia.

The Thirty Years' War (1618–1648), devastating large parts of Germany, fell into this period. Although the war was mostly a conflict between Protestants and Catholics, Catholic France sided with the Protestants against the Austrian-led Catholic Imperial forces. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 gave France limited control over Alsace and Lorraine. The 1679 Treaties of Nijmegen consolidated this result by bringing the towns under French control. In 1681, France occupied Strasbourg.

Meanwhile the expanding Muslim Ottoman Empire became a serious threat to Austria. The Vatican initiated a so-called Holy League against the "hereditary enemy" of Christian Europe ("Erbfeind christlichen Namens"). Far from joining or supporting the common effort of Austria, Germany and Poland, France under Louis XIV of France invaded the Spanish Netherlands in September 1683, a few days before the Battle of Vienna. While Austria was occupied with the Great Turkish War (1683–1699), France initiated the War of the Grand Alliance (1688–1697). The attempt to conquer large parts of southern Germany ultimately failed when German troops were withdrawn from the Ottoman border and moved to the region. However, following a scorched earth policy that caused a large public outcry at the time, French troops devastated large parts of the Palatinate, burning down and levelling numerous cities and towns in southern Germany.

France and Prussia

In the 18th century, the rise of Prussia as a new German power caused the Diplomatic Revolution and an alliance between France, Habsburg and Russia, manifested in 1756 in the Treaty of Versailles and the Seven Years' War against Prussia and Great Britain. Although a German national state was on the horizon, the loyalties of the German population were primarily with smaller states. The French war against Prussia was justified through its role as guarantor of the Peace of Westphalia, and it was in fact fighting on the side of the majority of German states.

Frederick the Great led the defense of Prussia for 7 years, and though heavily outnumbered, defeated his French and Austrian invaders. Prussia and France clashed multiple times, and many more times that the other countries. This started years of hatred between the two countries. Frederick the Great was soon respected by all of his enemies, and Napoleon himself used him as a model for battle.

The civil population still regarded war as a conflict between their authorities, and did not so much distinguish between troops according to the side on which they fought but rather according to how they treated the local population. The personal contacts and mutual respect between French and Prussian officers did not stop entirely while they were fighting each other, and the war resulted in a great deal of cultural exchange between French occupiers and German population.

The perception of war began to change after the French Revolution. The French mass conscription for the Revolutionary Wars and the beginning formation of nation states in Europe made war increasingly a conflict between peoples rather than a conflict between authorities carried out on the backs of their subjects.

Napoleon put an end to the millennium-old Holy Roman Empire in 1806, forming his own Confederation of the Rhine, and reshaped the political map of the German states, which were still divided. The wars, often fought in Germany and with Germans on both sides as in the Battle of the Nations at Leipzig, also marked the beginning of what was explicitly called French–German hereditary enmity. Napoleon directly incorporated German-speaking areas such as the Rhineland and Hamburg into his First French Empire and treated the monarchs of the remaining German states as vassals. Modern German nationalism was born in opposition to French domination under Napoleon. In the recasting of the map of Europe after Napoleon's defeat, the German-speaking territories in the Rhineland adjoining France were put under the rule of Prussia.

"Hereditary" enmity

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, with the rise of mutually hostile modern nationalism, writers, historians and politicians in both countries tended to project their enmity backwards, regarded all history as a single, coherent and unbroken narrative of ongoing conflict, and re-interpreted the earlier history to fit into the concept of a "hereditary enmity". But this concept only makes sense from approximately the time of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871.

Nineteenth century

During the first half of the 19th century, many Germans looked forward to a unification of the German states, though most German leaders and the foreign powers were opposed to it. The German nationalist movement believed that a united Germany would replace France as the dominant land power in Western Europe. This argument was aided by demographic changes: since the Middle Ages, France had had the largest population in Western Europe, but in the 19th century its population stagnated (a trend which continued until the second half of the 20th century), and the population of the German states overtook it and continued to rapidly increase.

The eventual unification of Germany was triggered by the Franco-German War in 1870 and subsequent French defeat. Finally, in the Treaty of Frankfurt, reached after a lengthy siege of Paris, France was forced to cede the German-speaking Alsace-Lorraine territory (consisting of most of Alsace and a quarter of Lorraine), and pay an indemnity of five billion francs to the newly declared German Empire. Thereafter, the German Empire was widely viewed as having replaced France as the leading land power in Europe.

World Wars

The desire for revenge (esprit de revanche) against Germany, and in particular for the recovery of the “lost provinces” of Alsace and Lorraine (whose importance was summed up by the French politician Gambetta in the phrase: “Never speak of them; never forget them!” remained strong in France over the next 50 years and was the key French war aim in World War I. The Allied victory saw France regain Alsace-Lorraine and briefly resume its old position as the leading land power on the European continent. France was the leading proponent of harsh peace terms against Germany at the Paris Peace Conference. Since the war had been fought on French soil, it had destroyed much of French infrastructure and industry, and France had suffered the highest number of casualties proportionate to population. Much French opinion wanted the Rhineland, the section of Germany adjoining France and the old focus of French ambition, to be detached from Germany as an independent country; in the end they settled for a promise that the Rhineland would be demilitarized, and heavy German reparation payments. On the remote Eastern end of the German Empire, the Memel territory was separated from the rest of East Prussia and occupied by France before being annexed by Lithuania. To alleged German failure to pay reparations under the Treaty of Versailles in 1923 (Germany being accused of not having delivered telephone poles on time), France responded with the occupation of the Rhineland and the industrial Ruhr area of Germany, the center of German coal and steel production, until 1925. Also, the French-dominated International Olympic Committee banned Germany from the Olympic Games of 1920 and 1924, which illustrates French desire to isolate Germany.

However, the UK and the US didn't favor these policies, seen as too pro-French so Germany soon recovered its old strength (most of the war reparations were cancelled under the pressure of the UK and the US), then from 1933 under Adolf Hitler, began to pursue an aggressive policy in Europe. Meanwhile France in the 1930s was tired, politically divided, and above all dreaded another war, which the French feared would again be fought on their soil for the third time, and again destroy a large percentage of their young men. France's stagnant population meant that it would find it difficult to withhold the sheer force of numbers of a German invasion; it was estimated Germany could put two men of fighting age in the field for every French soldier. Thus in the 1930s the French, with their British allies, pursued a policy of appeasement of Germany, failing to respond to the remilitarization of the Rhineland, although this put the German army on a larger stretch of the French border.

Finally, however, Hitler pushed France and Britain too far, and they jointly declared war when Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. But France remained exhausted and in no mood for a rerun of 1914–18. There was little enthusiasm and much dread in France at the prospect of actual warfare after the “phony war”. When the Germans launched their blitzkrieg invasion of France in 1940, the French Army crumbled within weeks, and with Britain retreating, an atmosphere of humiliation and defeat swept France.

A new government under Marshal Philippe Pétain surrendered, and German forces occupied most of the country. A minority of the French forces escaped abroad and continued the fight under General Charles de Gaulle (the “Free French” or “Fighting French”). On the other hand, the French Resistance conducted sabotage operations inside German-occupied France. To support the invasion of Normandy of 1944, various groups increased their sabotage and guerrilla attacks; organizations such as the Maquis derailed trains, blew up ammunition depots, and ambushed Germans, for instance at Tulle. The 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich came under constant attack and sabotage on their way across the country to Normandy, suspected the village of Oradour-sur-Glane of harboring terrorists, arms and explosives, and wiped out the population in retaliation.

There was also a free French army fighting with the Allies, numbering almost five hundred thousand men by June 1944, one million by December and 1.3 million by the end of the war. By the war's end, the French army occupied south-west Germany and a part of Austria.

When Allied forces liberated Normandy and Provence in August 1944, a victorious rebellion emerged in occupied Paris and national rejoicing broke out, as did a maelstrom of hatred directed at French people who had collaborated with the Germans (most infamously, the shaving of the heads of French girls who had gone out with German soldiers). Some Germans taken as prisoners were killed by the resistance.


With the threat of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, Germany sought its national security in the re-integration into Western Europe, while France sought after a re-establishment as a Grande Nation. The post-war Franco-German cooperation is based on the Élysée Treaty, which was signed by Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer on January 22, 1963.[3] The treaty contained a number of agreements for joint cooperation in foreign policy, economic and military integration and exchange of student education.

The treaty was signed under difficult political situations at that time and criticized both by opposition parties in France and Germany, as well as from the United Kingdom and the United States. Opposition from the United Kingdom and the United States was answered by an added preamble which postulated a close cooperation with those (including NATO) and a targeted German reunification.

The treaty achieved a lot in initiating European integration and a stronger Franco-German co-position in transatlantic relations.

The initial concept for the Franco-German cooperation however dates back a lot further than the Elysée Treaty and is based on the overcoming the centuries of Franco-German hostilities within Europe. It was compared to a re-establishment of Charlemagne's European empire as it existed before division by the Treaty of Verdun in 843 AD.

The Schuman declaration of 1950 is regarded by some as the founding of Franco-German cooperation, as well as the of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) of 1951, which also included Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

The cooperation was accompanied by strong personal alliance in various degrees:


Political alliances

As early as 1994 - a time of the EU12 - the German Christian Democrats Wolfgang Schäuble and Karl Lamers published a pamphlet in which they called for a Kerneuropa (= core Europe). This came in response to a slowing down of European integration by eurosceptic member states while many Europeans in "core Europe" states ask for a stronger Europe. Those countries typically include France, Germany and the Benelux, as well as Austria, Spain and Italy. The core Europe idea envisaged that it would have a 'centripetal effect', a magnetic attraction for the rest of Europe.

Yet, the emergence of the envisaged "core social Europe" has become highly unlikely - the original Schäuble-Lamers idea of multi-speed Europe has since been replaced by the concept of a variable geometry Europe which is formally represented in the political instrument of enhanced co-operation. Additionally the core Europe policy would contradict the structural reform agenda that has marked the German social-democratic government and would also be at odds with Berlin's general support for further enlargement. France has also expressed that any factual split would be in contradiction to the EU ideals thereby risking the completion of an EU super nation encompassing the whole of Europe.

Other practical problems of a possible core Europe are that France and Germany find it hard to establish agreement within various policy areas. Both countries want to strengthen European defence forces, but Germany is cutting its defence spending. Both France and Germany would like to boost the EU's foreign policy, but France no longer supports Germany's call for majority voting in foreign policy. On asylum and migration policies, the two countries have quite different approaches, and progress in other areas of justice and home affairs has been slow.

However the two countries manage a common European policy in regard to European integration and also foreign affairs, a strong example of this is the Iraq War that aligned the Franco-German alliance with Russia and China in opposition to American and British foreign policy. The political differences around the Iraq War 2003 have also been influential on the creation of the G6 (EU) conferences that may be regarded as the new motor to align the views on foreign affairs and European integration.

Former French President Jacques Chirac has stated his desire to see Europe as a counterweight to American power against what some see as increasingly predatory American politics in the Middle East.

On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty in 2003, the EU Commissioners Pascal Lamy (France) and Günter Verheugen (Germany) presented the so-called Lamy-Verheugen Plan that proposes a factual unification of France and Germany in some important areas - including unified armed forces, combined embassies and a shared seat at the United Nations Security Council. Starting off that date the ministers were encouraged to maintain direct contact with a biannual joint Franco-German Ministerial Council held in the following years.

Economic alliances

The government of the two nations are making enormous efforts to merge the biggest enterprises of the Franco-German industrial alliance, it is interesting to note that once united the Franco-German enterprises often rise to world leadership in their respective fields.

Franco-German collaborative enterprises include;

Cultural alliances

Military alliances

  • From its inception during the 1960s the Eurocorps has contained large contingents of French and German troops at its core, while other EU nations have contributed soldiers to the multinational force. As well as the Franco-German Brigade the remainder of the corps takes much of its infantry from France and much of its armour from Germany.

See also

France portal
Germany portal
International relations portal

Notes and references

External links

  • Joschka Fischer)
  • Spanish irritation of excessive dominance of the EU agenda by France & Germany
  • The Commissioner for Franco-German Cooperation
  • La Gazette de Berlin The Newspaper in French for Germany (1 Page in German)
  • The Franco-German Youth Office (FGYO)