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The Franco-German Pact Is Not the Problem

Sigmar Gabriel, a former German minister of foreign affairs and leader of the Social Democrats, has responded to the signing of a new Franco-German friendship pact by dredging up threats from the past. By ignoring threats in the present, not least Europe's lack of strategic autonomy, he does a disservice to Europe and Germany alike.

PARIS – All too often, important contributions to public debate go almost unnoticed, as was the case with Sigmar Gabriel’s recent commentary on the Franco-German relationship. A former leader of the Social Democrats (SPD) who has also served as German minister of foreign affairs, Gabriel has issued a rather violent charge against the new Franco-German Treaty of Aachen, which he sees as the first step in a plan for a European Defense Union.

No such plan exists. Yet, according to Gabriel, the treaty represents a renewed bid for European strategic autonomy along Gaullist lines. As such, he condemns it for being “at odds with Germany’s own longstanding approach of balancing the friendship with France alongside strong transatlantic relations with the [United States and the United Kingdom].” In his view, Germany has already yielded too much to Gaullist France (a label he does not apply as a compliment).

Gabriel’s main objection is that the new agreement will pull Germany away from NATO. He points out that the earlier Franco-German friendship pact – the 1963 Élysée Treaty – was specifically amended by the Bundestag to reaffirm Germany’s transatlantic ties, provoking the fury of then-French President Charles de Gaulle. Hence, he sees the Treaty of Aachen as yet another attempt to cut the US out of the European security equation.

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