German Foreign Minister Westerwelle talks of the special relationship between his country and France, and his personal ties with the neighboring country with DW. The friendship shouldn’t be taken for granted, he warns.
DW: Foreign Minister, 50 years of the Élysée Treaty, and 50 years of German-French reconciliation. What does that mean for Germany?
Guido Westerwelle: First, it means that the Franco-German friendship is a real gemstone in our European treasure chest. But of course, it's also a pillar for us as nations. Just think about it: there are about 2,000 German-French partnerships between German and French cities. That's an indication of how broad the cooperation is. A German-French TV station, soldiers who work together in brigades. What began 50 years ago has really gone through an exciting evolution.
Was the German-French reconciliation between the French President Charles de Gaulle and his German counterpart Konrad Adenauer the basis for this incredibly successful story of peace on this continent?
It was the initial spark. And that turned into a friendship between citizens. There's the German-French Youth Office, which I took part in while growing up in the Rhineland. These are stunning success stories that have been recorded – how we were inspired as young people to find pen pals or to visit each other's countries.
Did you yourself experience resentment?
Yes, I did experience that. Only I wouldn't call it resentment, but rather simply sorrow or dismay at what France was subjected to by the Germans during World War II. I experienced resentment first hand on a camping trip in Brittany with two or three friends. We wanted to buy something in a little shop. An older woman refused to serve us and went into a back room, where I heard her cry. Her daughter then came out front and said, "boys, this has nothing to do with you. It's because her husband, my father, was killed by the Germans in the war." I had that experience in the 1970s. Fortunately, it isn't something that really shapes our relationship anymore. Today, Germany and France, France and Germany, above all look ahead to what we can accomplish together.
Let us look back one more time. If you review these past 50 years, there are many examples of German-French cooperation. Of course, there's de Gaulle, Adenauer, Helmut Schmidt, Giscard d'Estaing, Helmut Kohl, François Mitterrand, but also Gerhard Schröder and Jacques Chirac. What's surprising is that the politicians who moved beyond the constraints of party lines seem to have gotten along the best. Is that also part of the reason this partnership has been so successful?
I don't think there are any rules for this, no predictability. Cooperation depends on personalities. I notice it myself when I work with other foreign ministers here in Europe. It has nothing to do with parties or party politics. What matters is that you develop a good rapport, just like in everyday life. We have been lucky in that political leaders in France and Germany throughout the post-war era have always had a very close and personal relationship, even if, as in some instances, it followed a difficult start. And that will once again be the case now.
Just like with Chancellor Angela Merkel and President François Hollande. Do you think that, following some initial friction, they, too, can become a dream pair for Franco-German politics?
I think it is possible. We will be doing our level best to make it happen. I have to say that, initially, I had several discussions with Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius's predecessor, Alain Juppé who is from a different political party. But it turned into a truly excellent working relationship. We are working very closely with Laurent Fabius. When I look around in Europe and the world, I think there's barely another political pairing that has such a close relationship as France and Germany. Our meetings and phone calls are countless. And it's no longer out of the ordinary when German and French politicians meet – in my youth that was entirely different.
So you are in constant, even daily, contact with your French counterpart Laurent Fabius – for instance over Mali at the moment?
We probably see each other at least once or twice a week, at conferences or during bilateral visits. And it's no different with the difficult decision concerning Mali. The day before France deployed its troops, the French foreign minister explained his point of view to me. It shows that these aren't just complex, static, ritualized talks. There is that too – there are ceremonies, there is the red carpet and sometimes parades with a reception according to protocol. But to be honest, that isn't the defining characteristic of our relationship. It's about the many discussions that are often cordial and sometimes very serious.