France and Germany have renewed their vows of postwar friendship, aiming to show that the traditional engine powering the EU project is still strong, but drawing strong criticism from nationalist and populist parties advancing across the continent, reports The Guardian.
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, and German chancellor, Angela Merkel, signed the 16-page update to the 1963 Elysée treaty on Tuesday in the German border city of Aachen, the residence of Charlemagne, the “father of Europe” who managed to unite much of the western part of the continent in the ninth century.
With the EU under unprecedented pressure from Brexit, Donald Trump and nationalist governments in Italy, Poland and Hungary, Macron and Merkel sought to renew their nations’ commitment to the bloc and limit the gains Eurosceptic parties are expected to make in European parliamentary elections in May.
“Populism and nationalism are strengthening in all of our countries,” Merkel told French, German and EU officials at the ceremony. “Seventy-four years – a single human lifetime – after the end of the second world war, what seems self-evident is being called into question once more.”
Macron said those “who forget the value of Franco-German reconciliation are making themselves accomplices of the crimes of the past. Those who ... spread lies are hurting the same people they are pretending to defend, by seeking to repeat history.”
The text promises enhanced economic and security cooperation, including the aim of a “German-French economic area with common rules” and a “common military culture” that Merkel said could “contribute to the creation of a European army”.
However, domestic far-right opponents in France and Germany said the document signed away national sovereignty, and Eurosceptics abroad derided it as a symbolic and irrelevant gesture by two significantly weakened leaders.
Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Rally party, accused Macron of “an act that borders on treason”, while Alexander Gauland, of Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) said Paris and Berlin were trying to create a “super EU” within the bloc.
“As populists, we insist that one first takes care of one’s own country,” Gauland said. “We don’t want Macron to renovate his country with German money … The EU is deeply divided. A special Franco-German relationship will alienate us even further.”
Italy’s far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, said earlier this month that he intended to challenge the text’s pro-European message, and indeed the whole idea of a “Franco-German motor”, with a Eurosceptic “Italian-Polish axis”.
Far-right opposition to the treaty has spawned a raft of conspiracy theories online, including the claim that Macron plans to cede control of Alsace and Lorraine, partially annexed by Germany in 1871 and returned to France after the first world war.