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France and Germany seal bilateral deal with global ambitions

Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy have unveiled a new 10-year plan, including 80 projects designed to improve Franco-German cooperation. The goal is also to better promote European ideas globally.

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, left, welcomes German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Merkel and Sarkozy want to go forward arm in arm

The French and German governments on Thursday published a joint document detailing plans for a decade of closer bilateral cooperation, designed to have a international effect.

The "Franco-German Agenda 2020" outlines plans for everything from joint ministerial sessions, to combined political and economic policy-making, education initiatives, language learning programs, and even simplified Franco-German marriage regulations.

"I think this is a chance to do something bilaterally, but also with a close relationship to our international endeavors," said Chancellor Angela Merkel at a joint press conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris on Thursday.

"We need new ideas; we need to approach business differently; we need sustainable national budgets and financial policies. And I really believe that all these new challenges must be brought into European discussions by Germany and France."

Traditionally France and Germany have been the "engine room" of the European Union. The primary function of the EU when it was first conceived after World War II was as a peacekeeping tool to promote close ties between the two neighbors after centuries of bloodshed.

"This leadership is not meant to damage anybody else," Sarkozy said of the new Franco-German claim that "without us, nothing can work."

"We just want to ensure that a politically strong Europe exists. And for that, Germany and France must cooperate."

Strength through unity?

However, EU countries have struggled to assert their desires and beliefs in recent global discussions, perhaps most notably at the International Climate Conference in Copenhagen in December.

Protestors at the Copenhagen climate summit.

Despite Franco-German efforts, Copenhagen's climate summit disappointed many

There, France and Germany were in lockstep, rigorously campaigning for fixed, binding carbon dioxide emissions targets to be established for the world's major polluters. But no such deal was reached.

"I think France and Germany are not so strong that they can convince the whole world to do what they want," the head of the French program at the German Council on Foreign Relations, Claira Demesmay, told Deutsche Welle.

"They are two national states that are not all that big, and they know it. But just because you can't influence things, that's no reason not to act. They continue to try to convince the other countries, starting with the European Union, and then moving further afield. But it's very difficult."

An uneasy union

A French and German flag, on a wall next to a closed door.

Franco-German politics isn't as unified as some might think

France and Germany have disagreed on substantial issues in the past, especially regarding the economy. Sarkozy supported an EU-wide stimulus package earlier this year, while Merkel - who at the time was preparing for a national election - advocated national measures to tackle the economic downturn.

"It's very important that France and Germany coordinate more efficiently and more closely in the field of economic and budgetary politics," said Demesmay, pointing out that both countries are currently exceeding the EU's prescribed budget deficit levels and need to find ways to reduce their debts.

"It's a real contentious issue, and it's the most important point for the EU, and for the euro zone. However, their traditions over the past decades have been very, very different."

Merkel's new center-right coalition government is - at least in theory - more closely aligned with the ideologies of Sarkozy's conservative French government than it was with her old "Grand Coalition" with the Social Democrats.

However, Demesmay explains that France and Germany have had ideologically similar governments in the past, which nonetheless often disagreed on economic policies.

"This new document, Agenda 2020, has 80 new ideas. But the focus seems to be quantitative, not qualitative. It's not a revolution."

Author: Mark Hallam
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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