New Franco-German treaty sparks 'yellow vests' backlash

Published 23.01.2019 00:00

Hundreds of people attended protests on the sidelines of a ceremony led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday to renew the Franco-German friendship and pledge greater cooperation.

German police said that four demonstrations including one by roughly 120 supporters of France's so-called Yellow Vest movement and another by about 200 members of the pro-European Pulse of Europe group were under way in the city. Police said most of the Yellow Vest protesters in Aachen were German citizens

The accord, which declares that the countries will take their relations "to a new level and prepare for the challenges that both states and Europe face in the 21st century," was met with opposition in France. Right-wing leaders including Marine Le Pen have seized on conspiracy theories that Macron is preparing to cede control of the Alsace region in eastern France and willing to share his country's permanent U.N. Security Council seat with Germany.

Though short on detail, the treaty extension, negotiated over the past year, stipulates that it will be a priority of German-French diplomacy for Germany to be accepted as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

Germany has for years sought greater influence within the international body, to which its closest allies the United States, Britain and France belong.

While making clear that Germany and France remain committed to the EU and NATO defense alliance, the agreement also signals that Berlin and Paris will combat efforts by some nationalist politicians in Europe to erode the 28-nation EU. Facing new challenges from U.S. President Donald Trump in the United States as well as EU governments in Italy, Poland and Hungary, Merkel and Macron are keen to head off any breakthrough for eurosceptic parties in the European Parliament vote.

Franco-German treaties are supposed to be milestones in the process of European integration, paving the way for the bloc as a whole to deepen cooperation. But its signatories, both of whom have struggled to maintain their authority over their own domestic politics, have failed this time to produce the wide-ranging vision to really enthuse Europhiles.

Eurosceptics also voiced their opposition. Alexander Gauland, leader in parliament of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), said: "French President Macron cannot maintain order in his own country. The nationwide protests in France are never ending. So it is inappropriate, if this failing president imposes visions on us for the future of Germany." "The EU is now deeply divided. A German-French special relationship will alienate us even further from the other Europeans," he said.

"Relaunching" Europe will also have to wait until after Brexit is settled and this year's hard-fought European Parliament elections in May. The original Elysee Treaty was signed in 1963 by Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and President Charles de Gaulle, who in the same year vetoed the British application to join the European Community, the precursor of today's European Union.

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