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France and Germany: a couple of the future

On 22nd January France and Germany are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty, the seal of their work together.

And it is something indeed! No bilateral relationship in the world can rival their degree of proximity and confidence - ie joint exchange and work. No other couple of States has succeeded in breaking away from a past as dramatic as they had, finding strength in a privileged alliance. Yes, there is cause to celebrate this example, where reason and wisdom won over the fatality of war, opposition and divergence.

As soon as the Second World War was over both countries came together to share the same idea, that had been hoped for so many times - but which was now being implemented - a Europe to unite and not only to rebuild in the wake of devastating warfare.

It was Robert Schuman who was first, in 1950, then General de Gaulle in 1963 to hold out a hand to yesterday's enemy, who accepted it in the hope of breaking away from the past. They succeeded in reconciling France and Germany and via their alliance they built the foundations of European unity.

Balance, complementarity, and a determined political will for dialogue between the two States, which represented one third of the population of Europe and nearly half of its wealth, was the only true engine behind European integration. Today still, there can be no European decision if France or Germany are not involved pro-actively together.

This is maybe why the European Union sometimes seems not to move forwards quickly enough in the face of global challenges.

For a long time French economic results were better than those of its main partner, but growth by the two made these differences acceptable. Today the situation is different due to a disparate reform agenda, which the crisis only exacerbates.

And dialogue, although it is incomparable in terms of quality and real depth, it has slowly faded to become more administrative and diplomatic rather than political and imaginative. It is often challenged by government alternation, by a time of mutual apprenticeship on either side of the Rhine. It has been disrupted by the crisis which demands emergency decisions; which have sometimes lacked in speed and vital creativity.

It is challenged by party politics, populism - the egotism of the rich, which is still Europe's speciality. For the first time in a long while we have heard bitter criticism which we no longer thought possible - anti-German sentiment in France and econommic arrogance in Germany! Some in France regret that we "always give in to Germany" whilst for a long time they gave in to facility, notably in terms of public spending. There are some in Germany who refused to "pay for the irresponsible" - the direct price of the consequences of their own policy, notably their monetary policy. No one has been proven right and this is a good thing.

Because in order to rise to the challenges which Europe has to face we are expecting a great deal of the Franco-German couple - and its leaders cannot underestimate the importance of their responsibility. The success of Europe will depend on them and no other, ie the solution to the crisis, vital reform, the shape of tomorrow's Europe and notably its position in the international arena.

It is up to France and Germany, open to their partners, to complete the task of European unity, to put forward the sorely needed roadmap to guarantee its future. This means drawing closer again, the only condition for European fertility.

This will not spoil the celebration of over 60 years of friendship sealed 50 years ago in a visionary, ambitious Treaty which can still lead to many more new developments.

This must be its inspriration.