French President Emmanuel Macron’s push for what he previously called “a real European army” got a big boost on Tuesday amid France and Germany signing an updated historic treaty reaffirming their close ties and commitment to support each other during a ceremony in the city of Aachen, a border town connected to Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire. But the timing for the renewal of the two countries’ 1963 post-war reconciliation accord is what’s most interesting, given both the rise of eurosceptic nationalism, the uncertainty of Brexit, and just as massive ‘Yellow Vests’ protests rage across France for a tenth week.
Macron addressed this trend specifically at the signing ceremony with the words, “At a time when Europe is threatened by nationalism, which is growing from within… Germany and France must assume their responsibility and show the way forward.”
Germany’s Angela Merkel agreed, adding in her own remarks: “We are doing this because we live in special times and because in these times we need resolute, distinct, clear, forward-looking answers.” The agreement, which is being described as sparse on specifics or detail, focuses on foreign policy and defense ties between Berlin and Paris.
“Populism and nationalism are strengthening in all of our countries,” Merkel 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.”
And in remarks that formed another affirmation that the two leaders are seeking to form an “EU army” Merkel said just before signing the treaty: “The fourth article of the treaty says we, Germany and France, are obliged to support and help each other, including through military force, in case of an attack on our sovereignty.”
The text of the updated treaty includes the aim of a “German-French economic area with common rules” and a “common military culture” that Merkel asserted could “contribute to the creation of a European army”.