January 22 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Elysee Treaty which began the process of French-German reconciliation. Signed in 1963 by Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle, the treaty is a unique phenomenon on the international arena, as the two countries closely cooperate not only at the level of governments, but also at that of schools, kindergartens, twinned cities, businesses, higher educational and research institutions.
What does this treaty mean for the current generation of Germans and the French? How are they going to mark the golden jubilee? Are Berlin and Paris interested in the early signing of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement? The Day discussed this with the ambassadors of Germany and France to Ukraine, Christof Weil and Alain Remy, the living witnesses of the signing of that treaty. They also explained why they had chosen to give a tandem interview to no other newspaper than The Day in connection with this solemn jubilee.
Alain REMY: “I have already had opportunities to contribute to your newspaper. I read it every morning. I can say Den/The Day has become an integral part of my everyday life in Ukraine.”
Christof WEIL: “I have in fact nothing to add to my French counterpart’s wise comments. I also read your newspaper with pleasure.”
Ambassador Weil and Ambassador Remy, let me thank you sincerely for your initiative to grant an interview to The Day which consistently speaks out for the return of Ukraine to Europe. We think it is a good idea to use the 50th anniversary of the Elysee Treaty as subject of an interview. Do you think there can be a new interpretation of this treaty? What message would you like to send to our readers with this interview?
A.R.: “Fifty years is half a century, but it is also the length of a human lifetime. The Elysee Treaty left its imprint on my life when I was a youth and also later in my mature years. Now that we are marking the 50th anniversary of this treaty, the process it brought into motion still continues. At the same time, this date can be said to symbolize the beginning of a new stage in French-German friendship over the past few decades, with all its ups and downs. Undoubtedly, this process will never stop and will continue in the future.”
Ch.W.: “Before you came here, Alain and I – and we belong to the same generation that grew up after World War Two – spoke of how important this treaty is for us as just individuals and as French and German diplomats.
“Alain explained things very well, as far as celebrating the 50th anniversary of the treaty and the essence of the treaty itself are concerned. Let me tell you a historical anecdote which is in fact a true story. When I was a 9-year-old boy, my grandmother took me by train to the nearby city of Ludwigsburg, where General de Gaulle was at the moment as part of his state visit. When Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle were riding past in a Mercedes, I stood on the roadside and somebody had given me a small flag, a French tricolor, – and I was crying out at the top of my voice, apparently without taking it in: ‘Vive de Gaulle!’ Why was I so excited and shouting so loudly? I was overwhelmed with a feeling which my grandma also felt. Her father fought in the 1870 Franco-Prussian War and her husband in the World War One when she had not yet known him. Her brother was killed in World War Two. So it was a great shock and joy for my grandma, when it became obvious that Germany and France were becoming friends. My grandma’s generation grew up in a belief that the French were our sworn enemies, and it is thanks to the symbolic signing of this treaty, thanks to mutual understanding between the two grand statesmen, that we are living, thank God, an absolutely new life. The Elysee Treaty itself and deep mutual understanding between the two great politicians has not become a myth or a legend – this has been proved over and over again. Maintaining good relations, as was shown in the meetings between President Giscard d’Estaing and Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, between Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterand in Verdun, and later between Gerhard Schroeder and Jacque Chirac in Normandy, is a living expression of a true friendship between our nations.”
As is known, this treaty, initiated by the then leaders of France and Germany, de Gaulle and Adenauer, in fact began the historic reconciliation between the two states. Incidentally, the Elysee Treaty did not mention economic cooperation at all. But many believe that the key to the historic reconciliation between Germany and France was the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community. So is this the question of values and leaders?
Ch.W.: “The European Coal and Steel Community was founded in 1951, incidentally, through the efforts of another French politician, Robert Schuman, whose life story is an illustrative example of a German-French symbiosis. It is true that the European Coal and Steel Community was aimed at laying the structural groundwork for non-aggression inside Europe. But we should not forget about emotions. We should also take into account the excellent relationship between Adenauer and de Gaulle, between the people whose generation grew up well before World War One and witnessed all the ravages of war in the 20th century. This generation still managed to take a step towards reconciliation. And I am convinced that both the Germans and the French supported it from the very bottom of their hearts. It can be claimed, of course, that the economy is an important factor and that the establishment of this coal and steel community removed preconditions for the preparation of a war. But, on the other hand, we must say that the reconciliation was very important and complemented the economy.”
A.R.: “I can only agree to this. On the one hand, indeed, two most important treaties were signed in the 1950s: the abovementioned treaty on the Coal and Steel Community and the Rome Treaty of 1957. Both documents outlined the structures of economic cooperation in Europe. On the other hand, speaking of bilateral relations between France and Germany, we can say that the economy did not prevail in this context at the time. General de Gaulle’s Ludwigsburg speech, which my counterpart mentioned, was addressed to young Germans – their representative, in the person of my counterpart and friend, was there and is now among us. Four months later, the Elysee Treaty was signed, with reconciliation between the two nations being its key idea. As you can see, what played the crucial role in both cases were not the economy but values, emotions, and the spirit of reconciliation that both nations shared. The Elysee Treaty was signed by the two people, witnesses to and participants in the wars that the two nations had to go through. It is for this reason that the ideal of friendship and reconciliation between the two peoples was of paramount importance.”
The Pope said in his Christmas message that the world needs a new economic model. Are people in your countries aware of this and how long will it take for most of them to share the necessity of building this model? What are the approaches of Berlin and Paris to this question?
A.R.: “I can say that Paris and Berlin have had a consensus in the past 50 years on the fundamental principles of an economic model: there should be a democratic, liberal, and market-oriented economy. In the past few decades, this model has naturally been varying along with changes all over the world. But the very foundations on which this model rests have remained unchanged in spite of the domestic political peripeteia in our countries, such as different political courses pursued by the right and left political parties in France (or the periods of ‘cohabitation’) and differences between the socialist and conservative parties in Germany.
Christof WEIL: “What policy are we and the European Union pursuing towards Ukraine? In all probability, there is the final version of a comprehensive treaty on the table. Never before has the EU concluded one like this with a third country. I mean the Association Agreement. It is right that this treaty is called so, for it promotes Ukraine’s political association and economic integration.”
“These foundations have been increasingly strengthened owing to the concurrent process of European construction – European communities were established and further steps were taken to deepen European integration. All these processes were based on the same values that are instrumental in building the common economic model for our countries. In the course of time, the events that led to the collapse of communism still more speeded up these processes, but even in the 1960s, the 1970s, and the 1980s they quite intensively complemented and reinforced one another.”
Ch.W.: “I can only confirm this. I will perhaps also mention here such thing as socially-oriented market economy. And it seems to me that our governments have had a very profound consensus from this very angle in all these years, including the present day. And, as Alain has already said, in all the 50 years of German-French relations, there has been a very well-functioning tandem of social democrats and socialists, on the one hand, and conservatives, on the other – just because there was a consensus.”
What do you think are the three most topical problems of united Europe?
A.R.: “This matter perhaps deserves a more profound consideration. Yet I could name two problems straight away. Firstly, I would mention the problem of the so-called ‘sovereign debt crisis.’”
Ch.W.: “If you don’t mind, I will make the following note. It was said rightly that it is a problem of debts. It is a crisis of debts, not of the euro.”
A.R.: “I fully agree. We must admit that the sovereign debt problem has provoked a certain crisis of European solidarity and even, to some extent, a crisis of the EU itself. But I can say today that these crises have been overcome. The past year, 2012, really allowed us to make a right diagnose in the sovereign debt problem and embark on the road of solving it, particularly, through the mechanisms of increased solidarity among European countries and public administration improvement measures. Further, to answer your question, I would single out, in political terms, the following point – it may not be the main problem but still it is as a challenge the European Union is facing today: it is the necessity to bring its political clout in line with its economic weight. For, in reality, the 27 EU member states are regarded together as a key and influential player in the world economy. In its turn, the European Union’s political clout has not yet reached the level it deserves in this connection.”
Ch.W.: “I would like to add something to what Alain said about the debt crisis. The German-French mutual understanding is particular in that both Germany and France want to achieve more in the European Union.
“Now about challenges. My children are 21 and 20, and they both view living in the now borderless European Union as something natural. It goes without saying for my daughter that, having received medical education, she can live in southern France. They cannot even imagine that there can be a war in Europe or between EU member states – this would be strange.
Alain REMY: “We favor an early signing of the Association Agreement. We have been saying this very often and in no uncertain terms. We clearly said at a meeting of the European Union’s Council of Ministers past December that we favored the signing of this treaty. At the same time, we are prepared to help Ukraine solve its own domestic problems. Incidentally, this will be also on the agenda of a very important event to be held on February 25 – the EU-Ukraine summit in Brussels.”
“But I think we should also cultivate in the younger generation the feeling that we must all work together daily to preserve this kind of Europe. This should be done even in Germany and France, where there is no strong anti-European movement.”
All the media are now discussing the case of Gerard Depardieu who has been granted Russian citizenship. Ukrainian writer Andrii Kurkov called this “economic dissidence” in an interview with The Day. What does this have to do with?
A.R.: “We decided by mutual consent that the German ambassador would answer this question” (laughs).
A.R.: “Gerard Depardieu is a personality and an actor of an extra-human and extra-temporal nature, who goes beyond any limits and disregards any standards in interstate relations, cinema, etc. So he can occasionally make very surprising decisions. I think we can expect him to go on springing this kind of surprises on us.”
Germany was defeated, France was victorious, and the US strove to hold sway in Europe. Does this remind of anything? What does Russia want in the post-Soviet space and are France and Germany helping it in this?
Ch.W.: “First of all, it should be noted that Germany was really ruined and physically destroyed in the war. Besides, it also went bankrupt morally. My country was undeniably guilty of all those horrors. So we were not supposed to stretch a hand for reconciliation. It was important that the victims of aggression stretch a hand. Historically, what deserves profound respect is the wholehearted policy of France and General de Gaulle. For only 18 years had passed since the end of that terrible war.
“Secondly, if I have correctly understood the question, we should not stick to and emphasize this myth. I do not think that Germany (although I could also say this sincerely about France) is pursuing a policy towards Russia at the expense of Ukraine. For us, Ukraine is a strategically important country which is, at the same time, in a difficult geopolitical situation, between the two huge ‘elephants,’ figuratively speaking.
“What policy are we and the European Union pursuing towards Ukraine? In all probability, there is the final version of a comprehensive treaty on the table. Never before has the EU concluded one like this with a third country. I mean the Association Agreement. It is right that this treaty is called so, for it promotes Ukraine’s political association and economic integration.”
A.R.: “I absolutely agree. France does not shape its policy towards Ukraine while watching the reaction of Russia. It is the case of two independent countries, each of which pursues an EU policy in accordance with its own achievements and history. Our policy towards Kyiv – which I can, incidentally, call European, not French, – is not linked to the political attitude to the Russian Federation.
“To be convinced of this, it is enough to look at the history of bilateral relations between France and Ukraine. Naturally, Russia has always been somewhere close by – it is inevitable. But let us look at 1990-2000, when there was a series of ministerial- and even presidential-level visits. The last presidential meeting took place not so long ago – in October 2010 in Paris. And nobody expressed any worries at the moment about the influence that Moscow might exert on the development of these relations.”
Ch.W.: “Which, incidentally, does not absolutely deny the fact that Paris, Berlin, and Kyiv are interested in having good relations with Russia.”
I agree. As supporters of European integration, we believe that Ukraine had a chance to integrate faster into the EU. But now we can see that it will be a long process. What do you think is better: to speed up the signing of the Association Agreement or not to do so? And do you think Ukraine should address the existing problems on its own or in conjunction with the EU? Which of the ways is more successful?
A.R.: “I would say the two processes should proceed concurrently. We favor an early signing of the Association Agreement. We have been saying this very often and in no uncertain terms. We clearly said at a meeting of the European Union’s Council of Ministers past December that we favored the signing of this treaty. At the same time, we are prepared to help Ukraine solve its own domestic problems. Incidentally, this will be also on the agenda of a very important event to be held on February 25 – the EU-Ukraine summit in Brussels. This will provide another opportunity to meet and discuss all these topics, as we did at the previous summit in December 2011 in Kyiv.”
Ch.W.: “You said in your question that this will be a ‘long process.’ But what can be defined as ‘long process’ in the case of such an important historical event? Alain has already said that if you read again the statements the EU foreign ministers made on December 10, 2012, you will see that that express a hope that this treaty will be signed before the end of 2013. And we continue to hold EU-Ukraine negotiations. There is a detailed plan about the association and the related goals we are talking about now. There is a plan about visa treatment – the EU and Ukraine also continue to negotiate this. In other words, we are really having a very active dialogue. There is just no alternative to it.”
The Prime Minister of France said recently in a program article published in Le Monde: “France is not a problem, France is the solution.” Ukraine’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kostiantyn Hryshchenko, once said: “Ukraine is not a problem but a source of opportunities for the EU.” Why does the EU not view Ukraine as the source of a new force?
Ch.W.: “I am bursting to get back to this treaty – the only one of its kind. What is this treaty about if you would like to express it in one sentence? Ukraine is such an important European country and has such a great potential that we are determined to conclude this treaty with it.”
A.R.: “I respect Mr. Hryshchenko too much to question his theses. Indeed, Ukraine is not a problem but a source of solutions in the future. This is why we are striving for closer relations with this country. It is enough for one to drive across its territory in order to see its expanses, its agrarian and industrial potential, and to conclude that it is capable of playing this role.”
The Ukrainian top officials who favor European integration and various, including foreign, experts are saying that the EU always offers Ukraine sticks instead of carrots. In other words, Brussels offers no encouragements, such as, for example, the prospect of membership which was a powerful stimulus for transformations in many countries, now EU members, while Russia is building up the pressure on Ukraine, trying to draw it into the Customs Union. What do you think of this?
A.R.: “Other times, other decisions. The membership prospect can be said to be a bygone problem now. As of today, the Ukrainian and European sides have initialed a draft treaty which, as my German counterpart noted, is the most advanced type of an agreement the EU can offer to a third party in order to organize cooperation in all vital spheres.
“I cannot share the viewpoint of the functionaries you quoted that the Association Agreement is a stick rather than a carrot.
“I am convinced that the Association Treaty contains a powerful additional potential for both the Ukrainian and the European sides and for the development of relations between them.
“It is this vision and this prospect that both the Ukrainian side – perhaps with the exception of some bureaucrats – and the European partners share today.”
Ch.W.: “I regard this exactly the way Alain does. This agreement must not be viewed from the stick-or-carrot angle. It is the result of years-long negotiations that helped reach a compromise fully supported by the two sides.
“Here is the statement of the Council of the European Union: ‘The council also reaffirmed the EU’s engagement with Ukraine…, acknowledging the European aspirations of Ukraine and welcoming its European choice.’
“Incidentally, when Central European states, such as Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, were going to join the European Union, there were some things that required no negotiations at all. They were supposed just to be taken for granted. Among them was the approval of acquis communitaire (EU law code). Besides, I think one must take the first step before taking the second one.
“Therefore, all the participants should use their creative energy to get the Association Agreement signed as early as this year.”
Many Western experts admit that the Tymoshenko and Lutsenko cases are a very difficult problem. We, in Ukraine, are horrified to see it turn into a sophisticated trap, which has led the EU-Ukraine relations into a deadlock and, as a result, 2012 was the year of lost opportunities. Do you see any way for both sides to ride out of this deadlock without losing their face? What do you think is the best way for Europe to help Ukraine solve the problems that hinder integration with the EU?
Ch.W.: “I would like to recall again the statement the EU Council made past December, which clearly spelled out the expectations of what we would like to see before the agreement is signed.”
A.R.: “As our ministers stated, the Tymoshenko and Lutsenko cases is one of the problems that need to be solved and one of the many directions in which one should work further. It is, on the whole, about the necessity to carry out reforms, including those in the judicial field. However, the EU cannot possibly tackle Ukraine’s domestic problems.”
Ch.W.: “It seems to me that our wise readers do not need to be told how to interpret the facts that we call selective justice.”
Are any summit meetings planned this year between the heads of our states? For one of the preconditions for this was a fair parliamentary election. In the view of many foreign experts, the elections came off well.
Ch.W.: “I would like to say that this year is still very young” (smiles).