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Why Europe’s Franco-German Engine Is Stalling

Sixty years after the Élysée Treaty ended two centuries of enmity and established a fruitful partnership between Germany and France, Europe’s de facto leaders are at odds over how to address multiple economic and geopolitical challenges. The fate of Europe may depend on their ability to find common ground.

PARIS – In January 1963, German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and French President Charles de Gaulle signed the bilateral Élysée Treaty, whereby the two former enemies officially ended two centuries of antipathy and bloodshed and committed to ushering in a new era of cooperation.

Signed five years after the Treaty of Rome entered into force, the Élysée Treaty was highly symbolic, and it laid the groundwork for Germany and France to become the European Union’s de facto leaders. EU partners know from experience that nothing can move forward if France and Germany are not on the same page, and that a Franco-German consensus generally paves the way to a wider agreement.

The relationship has had its ups and downs over the decades. Between 2010 and 2015, Germany and France’s inability to agree on how to respond to the euro crisis repeatedly brought the currency union to the brink. But there have also been remarkably harmonious moments. Within two months of COVID-19 hitting Europe, for example, the two countries devised an action plan that later formed the basis of the EU’s pandemic response.

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