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Franco-German Friendship in the 1970s (retrospective account)

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My closest French friend by far remains, of course, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. From the outset, we largely agreed not only on economics, but also in our two-pronged strategy toward the Soviet Union – on the one hand, to demonstrate the will and capacity for a common defense and, on the other hand, to show our willingness for negotiations and détente at the same time. Above all, we agreed from the very beginning – that is, from May 1974, when both of us first assumed leadership positions in our respective countries – on the strategic rationality of our cooperation, which is based on the eminent interests of both our nations, and on the steady, mutual rapprochement between Germany and France, and also on the two countries’ integration into the European Community (today: European Union).

For both of us, the sum of the historical experiences of each nation with the other was the determining key in recognizing this vital interest of both our countries. From the French perspective, they had to reckon that Germany – which was still divided at the time – would develop into Europe’s dominant power, industrially, financially, and monetarily, in not too long a time. That this would later develop into a German will to dominate politically, as well, had to be inferred from the traditional suspicion toward Germany harbored by many, many French people since the second half of the nineteenth century. After all, between 1870 and 1945 German troops had invaded France three times and occupied large parts of the country. In both world wars, France was decisively dependent upon its cooperation with America, England, and Russia/Soviet Union, so that it would at least be on the side of the victors at the end of the war. Should a fourth act to this three-act Franco-German tragedy be avoided in the future, then the French interest demanded the political and economic integration of Germany. Of course, strategically minded French people knew that a lasting integration of Germany could only be achieved if France also integrated itself in the same way. This is what Jean Monnet assumed. Charles de Gaulle finally accepted it, albeit very reluctantly at first. For Giscard d’Estaing, on the other hand, it was self-evident.

[ . . . ]

Valéry and I were very averse to visionary or radically new plans – and especially to any rhetorical explanations of them. Instead, we generally preferred to proceed step-by-step, in a practical manner. In this way, we were able to contribute to or initiate a number of important advances – which even caused the other governments in Europe to speak somewhat sardonically of the Paris-Bonn axis.

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