Treaty of Aachen: unifying or divisive?

Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron have signed the new German-French friendship treaty in Aachen. Commentators speculate on their motives and fear that what was meant as a bulwark against populism could cause considerable collateral damage.

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Duma (BG) /

Danger of dividing Europe growing

Duma fears that the treaty will divide Europe:

“From the Bulgarian perspective the biggest danger is that the plans for a 'two-speed Europe' that have long been entertained by the countries of northern and western Europe are now taking shape. ... Officially, the close alliance between Berlin and Paris is being presented as a bulwark against the populism that is spreading in the south and the east. The two countries want to form a joint front on European policy in a bid to overcome the resistance of other countries. But in view of the unbridgeable ideological differences between the two camps, wouldn't it be much more realistic simply to divide the Union into two completely separate Europes?”

Dnevnik (SI) /

Declaring war on anachronistic nationalism

For Dnevnik the treaty marks a symbolic step forward:

“The decision to renew the friendship between their nations was taken by two politically weak leaders whose possibilities to bring Europe forward seem very limited indeed. But the symbolism of the treaty transcends the transience of the politicians' careers. Berlin and Paris have made it clear that they will not allow the clock in Europe to be turned back. Their friendship treaty is a declaration of war on populism and nationalism. And other EU members are also being invited to help strengthen the Union. The real dilemma is that the concept of a two-speed Europe is disastrous in the long term. Time will tell what becomes of that.”

Magyar Hírlap (HU) /

Merkel and Macron seeking a quick victory

Merkel and Macron also need the friendship treaty to boost their careers, speculates Mariann Öry, Magyar Hírlap's foreign desk editor:

“Angela Merkel is drawing closer to the end of her political career and wants to create something lasting. With her resignation as party leader and the election of her close ally Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer as her successor she has, of course, ensured that we talk of an orderly withdrawal rather than a messy fall. However, the events leading up to this, including a series of election defeats and the torturous coalition building process, were not what she had planned. And Macron is under pressure due to his diminished popularity and the yellow vest protests, which are gaining momentum once more and are the product of deep dissatisfaction in society.”

Avvenire (IT) /

Agreement deepens rifts

With their friendship treaty Germany and France are alienating other countries, Giorgio Ferrari, an international politics expert, fears in Avvenire:

“One wonders whether this new edition of the German-French axis won't make the other 25 countries that are excluded feel annoyed and cornered. Starting with Italy, which once took part in the founding events. Not to mention the Visegrád quartet, whose distrust vis-à-vis 'liberal democracy' is becoming increasingly clear. ... Some observers are even asking whether the upcoming European elections will be less a battle led by the liberal democracies against the xenophobic and populist wave than a kind of referendum on the German-French Europe. In that case it couldn't be more damaging.”

Denik N (CZ) /

More a chance than a danger

Denik N rejects such fears:

“Donald Trump in the White House, the worsening in relations between Europe and Russia and the economic, military and political growth of China: all this indicates that Europe must wake up from the comfortable state it has been in since the end of the Cold War. Since the British have opted for Brexit it's logical that France and Germany have begun this process. ... Although both countries have invited all the other Europeans to join them, there has been a series of negative reactions and concerns about a hegemony of Berlin and Paris. Both must therefore make it clear within the EU that far from being dangerous their activities actually represent a chance for the future.”

Azonnali (HU) /

Germany doesn't want to exclude Eastern Europe

Azonnali points out differences between the French and German approach to the new EU member states:

“For France, the new Eastern European member states aren't particularly important politically, economically or culturally. The French economy isn't as active in these countries, and with the exception of Romania the French language is hardly spoken there. Germany's politicians and business leaders, by contrast, don't want to give up on the Eastern Europeans, who can sometimes be unruly, yes, but otherwise - as Viktor Orbán's 'slave law' also shows - pursue policies very much in line with German economic interests.”

La Vanguardia (ES) /

Paris and Berlin have a historic responsibility

Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Rassemblement National, denounced the text in advance, saying it was a sell-out of French sovereignty. This shows how important the treaty is today, La Vanguardia concludes:

“Paradoxically, the importance of the agreement signed yesterday was underscored by the fierce criticism this elicited from the far-right extremist parties, which had no qualms about spreading lies and confusion about the supposed loss of sovereignty the treaty entails. But as Macron said, those who forget the value of the German-French reconciliation make themselves complicit to the crimes of the past. Germany and France in particular have a historic responsibility to overcome their differences, strengthen their alliance and, together, promote the European project with greater intensity and enthusiasm.”

Handelsblatt (DE) /

Everyday problems remain unsolved

The treaty fails to take sufficient account of everyday reality, Handelsblatt criticises:

“Macron had to smile during the national dialogue when a German asked him why politicians talk about 'intermodal transportation' but you can't travel with your bike on many French trains. A banal question? No, a realistic one. ... Germany and France face the same problems. Not all the answers can be Franco-German. Many are local or regional, but they should certainly be transnational. For example for medium-sized companies that want to do business in neighbouring countries but encounter too many bureaucratic hurdles. Or for start ups that find it easier to expand in the US than in Europe. Or for those who commute between different EU countries for work but for whom social insurance becomes a nightmare. These problems have been described for years. Can we please at last have a solution?”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Weak in substance

The treaty won't live up to expectations, predicts Paolo Valentino, Germany expert for Corriere della Sera:

“The objective of the initiative is clear: in the face of the Brexit, chaotic and full of uncertainty for all involved, and a wave of populism that is calling into question the basic values and legitimacy of the Union, the Aachen Treaty aims to send a message to the European partners and to serve as a platform for the revival of the European project. ... But the text is the result of long and difficult negotiations and a compromise without quality. It is strong on symbolic gestures such as more bilingualism and stronger integration of border areas, but rather weak in substance”

Financial Times (GB) /

Macron putting his eggs in the wrong basket

Paris won't get very far with its Europe policy if it relies too much on the hesitant German government, the Financial Times warns:

“All in all, this pact lacks the operational detail of France's Lancaster House defence treaty with Britain, a sign of continued German reticence. Indeed, a lack of German ambition is clear throughout. There is barely a mention of the euro beyond the assertion that the two countries 'are strengthening and deepening monetary union'. ...Mr Macron has probably invested too much in Berlin and not enough in wooing other capitals, whether the liberal but fiscally hawkish north or the pro-European south. ”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE) /

Don't set the bar too high

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung defends the new treaty against accusations that it is not ambitious enough:

“The fact that those behind the treaty haven't built castles in the sky says a lot for their sense of realism. If they really put as much personal, political, and material effort into foreign, security, and defence policy as they promise to do in the treaty, it would be well worth it. And there's nothing wrong with improving everyday cooperation in border regions. We must be careful not to set the bar so high that it can't be reached at all. ... If Paris and Berlin manage to maintain cohesion in the EU and tackle future tasks together with a sound policy, that would be no mean feat. The only question is whether the leaders of the two countries are in a position to do that.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

A grotesque lack of transparency

The example of the new friendship treaty shows clearly how little Macron cares about public opinion, Jean-Frédéric Poisson, chairman of the Christian Democratic Party, rails in Le Figaro:

“Was the Aachen treaty, which according to the Elysée Palace is meant to 'prepare the two countries for the challenges of the 21st century', submitted to the French for approval, or even presented to them at all? No. It's impossible to even find the text. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that 'fake news' about it is circulating on the social networks. This total lack of transparency at the very moment when Emmanuel Macron has announced his intention to find out what the French people want in a major national debate is grotesque, and unimaginable in a healthy democracy.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

Berlin's dream of UN reform is naive

NRC Handelsblad isn't convinced that Berlin has set the right priorities with the treaty:

“Will the Germans now think a little more like the French? Given Trump's priorities, that wouldn't be such a bad thing. He's long made no secret of the fact that in his view there isn't even any need for Nato. Nevertheless, the treaty also betrays a certain German naivety which is no longer in keeping with the times. France and Germany back the idea of giving Germany a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. In the long term this is to become an EU seat. But apart from Germany no one's really taking the idea of an EU seat seriously. ... In fact the UN Security Council is a reflection of the world as it was in 1945, and that is untenable in the long term. However, in view of the growing tensions in the world there's no point insisting on reforming it now of all times.”