Interview with François Delattre, Ambassador of France to Germany, Berlin and Dr Hans Dieter Lucas, Ambassador of Germany to France, Paris
The European: Excellencies, I am honoured that both of you have accepted this conversation. 22 January 2023 marked the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Franco-German Elysée Treaty in Paris. What did the treaty mean to your respective nations at the time, and what is its significance for them today?
François Delattre: The Elysée Treaty is a turning point in European history. By signing the treaty in 1963, Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer had the political courage to turn two long-time enemies into two of the closest nations and put their cooperation at the service of the European integration process. France and Germany decided to engage in a path of reconciliation that arguably has little precedent in history, with a special focus on youth, which has led to 10 million young people going on exchanges between the two countries.
The European: And there have been further important initiatives since then.
François Delattre: Yes, since then, we have deepened and structured the Franco-German relationship through the Aachen Treaty in 2019 and the establishment of countless channels of consultation designed to produce convergence between the two countries and to create what I would call a Franco-German reflex. I don’t think there are two other countries in the world that are linked by such a dense and structured relationship in all areas. The other characteristic of the Franco-German relationship is that it is placed explicitly at the service of the European Union (EU). And in fact almost all of the major European initiatives, from the establishment of the single market to the creation of the euro and the recovery plan launched during the pandemic, have a strong Franco-German component – which obviously takes nothing away from the crucial role of the other EU Member States.
The European: Ambassador Lucas, would you agree with Ambassador Delattre on the importance of the Elysée Treaty
Hans Dieter Lucas: 60 years ago, the signing of the Elysée Treaty symbolised the reconciliation between France and Germany after the two world wars. This reconciliation is a central pillar of the European peace project, but at the same time the Elysée Treaty expressed the will to build the future together. It opened an era of intense unprecedented cooperation in all areas. History shows that the Franco-German “motor” is not sufficient, but certainly indispensable for progress of the European construction. This is particularly true in these times of multiple crisis. Europe is at crossroads – and Germany and France have a special responsibility in bringing it together.
The European: For some time now, the media have been reporting that this binational motor is sputtering and that
Franco-German relations will be weakened in the future by national egoism detrimental to the EU. What are the difficulties?
François Delattre: The strength of the Franco-German partnership is that, from often very different starting positions, it produces convergences which in turn will serve to achieve a European consensus. The ability to overcome our differences through dialogue is our great strength. Moreover, France and Germany have a common reading on the Russian military aggression against Ukraine and on the consequences to be drawn from it for Europe and its sovereignty. In such a profoundly upset strategic context, you cannot go by the book, you have to get out of autopilot. This is the meaning of the “Zeitenwende” (epochal shift), put forward by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. So we had to put all subjects back on the table and get back to work even harder, which is what we did on defence, energy, and industrial policy to take just a few examples.
As a result, the Franco-German partnership is back on the right track and the engine for Europe is running at full speed again. This is illustrated by the last French-German Ministers Council on 22 January and by the Paris meeting between the French President, the German Chancellor and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on 8 February. This is good news for Europe as well as for the transatlantic partnership.
Hans Dieter Lucas: The close Franco-German partnership is based on our shared understanding that Europe can only be strong and peaceful if Germany and France work together. This is something that all successive French presidents and German chancellors have understood and valued since the signing of the Elysée Treaty. It is the shared will to find solutions to the pressing problems in Europe, despite the differences that sometimes exist between our two countries, that has distinguished our cooperation for over 60 years and made it so important. As Ambassador Delattre said, the recent German-French Council of Ministers clearly showed that we agree on many issues, in particular to actively contribute to making Europe stronger and more “sovereign” in every aspect. This becomes all the more evident in times of crisis: I need only recall the Covid-19 pandemic, during which Germany and France jointly paved the way for the historic EU recovery fund. The same applies to the Russian aggression in Ukraine. The unprecedented sanctions against Russia were coordinated in the closest consultation between Berlin and Paris, as well as with our European partner countries. One could even say that the Franco-German partnership not only weathers crises as you said, but it thrives in times of crisis, when its importance becomes so acutely clear to everyone.
The European: Excellencies, let me turn to current burning political issues. Firstly energy: both nations have become dependent on their sources of energy, with serious consequences: Germany’s unwise dependence on Russia; the French dependence on nuclear energy plants, with their worrying technical failings. Is there a common future?
Hans Dieter Lucas: Germany has ended its energy supply from Russia concerning coal, gas and oil in record time. Just two months ago France and Germany recalled in a political declaration their commitment to achieving climate neutrality by 2050 and 2045, respectively, and their determination to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. In this context, they underlined the need to organise the transition to a decarbonised energy supply, while respecting the principle of technological neutrality with regard to the national choices of energy mix. For Germany it is clear: we will achieve our climate goals by massively expanding renewable energies in the years to come. As far as nuclear energy is concerned, our differences are well known.
The European: Ambassador Delattre, there is an understanding to achieve the objective of climate neutrality as Ambassador Lucas mentioned. But there is obviously no common French-German approach to achieve the shared objectives.
François Delattre: Concerning energy, it is obvious that our starting points, and energy mixes are very different. That is why we must create the conditions for convergence around the objectives that unite us, starting with the security of energy supplies in Europe and the rapid reduction of our CO2 emissions. That’s exactly what we are doing right now. I’m not saying it’s easy, but we’ll get there because the political will is there.
From France’s point of view, the best way to meet these two objectives and move away from fossil fuels is to move forward from a good balance between nuclear energy and renewables. Many of our European partners are on this line and for instance view nuclear energy as a key asset to produce carbon free hydrogen, of which we will collectively need significant amounts. Here too France and Germany, together with their partners, must respect their differences and build on their common objectives, carbon neutrality in particular.
The European: In the new geopolitical configuration in which Russia is extensively isolated and China increasingly so, is there an opportunity to relocate entire branches of industry? Could Germany and France play a pioneering role for Europe by proposing joint solutions for a new European industrial policy?
Hans Dieter Lucas: I think there is no industry that can be relocated from Russia to Europe. Regarding China, we seek cooperation with China wherever possible and when it is in our interest. We want a rules-based relationship with China. At the same time China is not only a partner but also a competitor and systemic rival. That is why we are reassessing the risks of doing business with China. We need to diversify. Regarding European industrial policy: Germany and France agree on the necessity for a strong European industrial policy enhancing Europe’s competitiveness. In November, Bruno Le Maire and Robert Habeck, our ministers for economy, published a joint statement, saying “We call for a renewed impetus in European industrial policy”. That is what we are working on.
The European: Ambassador Delattre, could you define the sectors where we can enhance competitiveness along the new roadmap the European Commission published on 1 February?
François Delattre: Indeed, much is at stake to strengthen Europe’s industrial attractiveness and competitiveness and make sure that we approach in the best possible conditions the three technological revolutions that will largely determine our future: the revolution of energy and sustainable development, the revolution of life sciences and genetics, and the digital revolution with its extensions into Big Data, artificial intelligence, the cloud, the Internet of Things and quantum technologies, to name just a few. France and Germany certainly have an important role to play in this regard, in conjunction with their European partners.
The European: On 7 February, the French and German economy ministers travelled to Washington to promote a Euro-American approach to the US Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). This seems to be a strong message of French-German unity at the service of Europe and the transatlantic partnership.
François Delattre: We are indeed at a decisive turning point for the European industry. Our companies must adapt rapidly to the ecological and digital transitions while reducing their strategic dependencies and continuing to benefit from a level playing field. Our task is to give them the stable framework that will allow them to keep growing and contribute to Europe’s prosperity and sovereignty. As a Franco-German team, we will build on the roadmap published recently by the Commission. We must build a genuine “made in Europe” strategy that will give Europe the means to decisively strengthen its attractiveness and competitiveness. Reducing our dependencies, on China particularly, is also central. It forces us to rethink our value chains and pursue a “de-risking” strategy in order to avoid a decoupling that would hurt Europe most. Germany and France have a converging strategy on this.
The European: Finally, let me come to armaments cooperation. There have been many positive achievements in the past, but also a lot of tension. Large-scale cooperation projects are highly political and thus stir controversy if they fail. How can the two governments and their respective industries approach projects in the future?
Hans Dieter Lucas: Armament cooperation is not a luxury but a necessity. Cooperative programmes, if successfully implemented and thought through from start to finish, offer many advantages. We are committed to the goal of a strong European Defence Technological and Industrial Base (EDTIB)and German-French cooperation is essential for strengthening European military capabilities. It is evident that large projects like the Future Combat Aircraft System (FCAS) or the Main Ground Combat System (MGCS) cannot be handled by one nation alone. It goes without saying that these major projects are challenging, but what finally counts is our shared ambition to make them happen. Of course, that requires both sides to take each other’s strengths and weaknesses into account – this is the core of every genuine partnership.
François Delattre: Strengthening European cooperation in the field of defence industries is a key component of European geopolitical, industrial and technological sovereignty. This requires taking into account our common long-term interests, beyond short-term constraints. In this area, the recent announcement of an agreement between France, Germany and Spain and their manufacturers on the first phase of the combat aircraft of the FCAS marks an important step forward.
The European: Excellencies, I thank you for this conversation.