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

In the following excerpt from his memoirs, former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt emphasizes the joint interests of France and Germany in promoting European integration and recapitulates the achievements of his close collaboration with French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. These include the European monetary system and direct elections to the European Parliament.

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[ . . . ] Whoever heads the government of France sees the need to analyze the long-term strategic-political interests of his country. France’s interest in Germany lay and still lies in a tight integration of the Germans into a larger (western) European alliance and thus in a close cooperation between French and German politics. This has been the cardinal motive of France’s European integration policy since Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman – and not, for instance, a general “Europe idealism,” which also exists alongside it. This cardinal motive has continued to gain momentum since German unification, because by now Germany’s population figures outnumber France’s by almost 50 percent. As long as Germany does not make any extraordinary mistakes, every French president will pursue this strategic motive for France. There is a high probability that this also applies to Jacques Chirac.

The close cooperation with France and the self-integration of Germany also lie in our own cardinal interest. Germany’s political class agrees with France’s political class on this vital point. Anyone who looks back at the last two centuries and at the four wars between the French and the Germans – from Napoleon to Hitler – has to acknowledge that maintaining this agreement is the guarantee for peace between the two nations.

Nonetheless, differences of opinion between Paris and Bonn, or later Berlin, on important issues will continue to arise. They could concern relations with the United States or Russia or the conflicts in the Balkans. There will be differences regarding the EU’s policy toward the south [of Europe], and the weight afforded to Italy, Spain, and Portugal – which are more important trading partners for France than for us – and with respect to policy toward the Mediterranean area. On the other hand, as a result of our geographic proximity, we Germans have a far greater interest in integrating Poland and the Czech Republic into the EU. Also, tensions will be inevitable with respect to the institutions, the financing of the EU, and agrarian policy. But if the Germans and the French keep their common interests in mind, we will be able to bridge these differences.*

[ . . . ]

* I have already reported extensively on Mitterrand in Die Deutschen und ihre Nachbarn [The Germans and Their Neighbors]. Berlin: Siedler, 1990. [Original footnote]

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