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Europe

Cohn-Bendit: 'Paris and Berlin without direction'

The friendship between Germany and France is an extraordinary accomplishment, EU politician Cohn-Bendit told DW. But when it comes to European politics, both countries have lost their way.

DW: Mr. Cohn-Bendit, are you in a mood to celebrate?

Daniel Cohn-Bendit: In a mood to celebrate?

The German-French Elysee treaty has now reached the mature age of 50, certainly grounds for celebration for Germany and France: How do you feel about this?

The Elysee treaty, the German-French pact, is of course a civil accomplishment. What we have today is extraordinary if you think about the history shared by these two countries.

How has this relationship developed? At the moment, the strained relationship between President Hollande and Chancellor Merkel is a hotly debated topic. Can we still speak of a trumpeted friendship?

Deutschland Frankreich Geschichte Merkel Sarkozy Symbolbild

Cohn-Bendit rejects the idea that relations between countries are affected by the way leaders get along

I'm always taken aback at the idea that this friendship is based on the relationship between the two governments. These are two heads of state; either they get along or they don't. This doesn't matter at all, politically. But I do think that French and German society can feed off of a natural, relaxed relationship between the two heads of government. And this won't change because Merkel preferred Sarkozy, or because Hollande does - or does not - understand Merkel.

Is this normality with regard to French-German relations impervious to the events of the past years? I am talking about the euro crisis. Has it changed the French stance towards the Germans?

One can, of course, say that the euro crisis and Germany's position has alienated a huge number of the French. Maybe even the majority. But these are normal political tensions. There are also tensions in France, Germany or wherever else between the right and left. But that's by no means a statement about - or an assessment of - normality. Political tensions are not necessarily social tensions.

Then let's take a look at society: Is it true that Germans have learned from the French, and that the French have become a bit more German over the years?

(Laughs) Sure, German society has opened up. Globalization in Germany started with its opening up to neighboring countries. In the way that people spent their vacation time in France. French cuisine came to Germany, where French wine for instance plays an important role now. This all has led to a more normal everyday life. At the same time, the French notice - sometimes full of jealousy, sometimes a bit alienated - how efficient Germans are. Especially when it comes to economic policy. This is why I believe the two societies are both mutually interested - and skeptical.

According to a recent poll, Germans like the French more than the other way around.

I have seen this poll. But there is a reality that contradicts it. The number of young French people in Berlin! There is a fascination for Europe - and in France for Berlin, for the lifestyle in Berlin.

You have continuously fought against national politics and lobbied for a federal Europe. What kind of role would the German-French motor play in this vision?

It's quite interesting that Germans talk about the German-French "motor" whereas the French speak of the German-French "tandem." No step forward towards an intensified European integration is going to happen without a joint German-French position. But this doesn't suffice anymore in a Europe with 27 member states. Just because Germany and France have agreed on it, it doesn't mean it will be implemented. That's what both governments still need to learn. They need to include the other countries.

Do you think Germany and France are pushing for more development within the EU - or are they hitting the breaks?

The problem is that they don't know for sure what they want. If you don't know where you are going, it's impossible to go in the right direction. And the politicians lack orientation. That's why Germans and French can't make proposals, let alone lead.

Isn't that a bit too much to ask when it comes to the euro crisis? It came out of nowhere - and took everyone by surprise. Do you think European politicians can solve this problem right away?

Sure, it's a lot to ask. But if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. If you can't do it, then do something else - like take up soccer - instead. It's a general requirement for politicians that they work to help solve a crisis.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit (born on April 4, 1945 in Montauban in France) is co-president of the European Parliament's Green party and a member of the German Greens. As a student he was well-known for his activism during French student riots in May 1968. After being expelled from France, he moved to Germany where he took on a leading role in the 70s social movement in Frankfurt. He joined the Green party in 1984. In 1994, he became an elected Member of the European Parliament, where he has served both the French and German Green party. The 67-year old has written several books on politics and has been the host of various TV shows.

Interview: Ralf Bosen / sst

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