Cues from Germany and France

Germany and France jointly held a ceremony in Berlin on Jan. 22 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Friendship or the Elysee Treaty, which laid the foundation for the two countries’ historic reconciliation. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande attended a joint session of the two countries’ parliaments. The treaty, which changed the relationship between the two countries from one of hostility and confrontation to one of mutual trust and cooperation, suggests a lesson for Japan, which faces history-related issues with its neighbors, especially China and the two Koreas.

The treaty was signed on Jan. 22, 1963, by French President Charles de Gaulle and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. The 19-article treaty does not specifically mention peace or friendship. But it contains the mechanism that eventually led to reconciliation and cooperation between the two countries. It has thus helped them serve as the driving force for European integration, which has taken the form of the European Union.

The treaty spells out twice-a-year regular summits between the top leaders of the two countries and regular meetings between their foreign ministries every three months.

It also aims to expand youth exchanges and exchanges in the fields of education and culture. It thus has helped greatly widen the communication channels and mutual understanding between France and Germany.

When the EU received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, the Norwegian Nobel Committee praised the reconciliation between the two countries and their contribution to the creation of the EU. In its press release, the committee said, “The dreadful suffering in World War II demonstrated the need for a new Europe. Over a 70-year period, Germany and France had fought three wars. Today, war between Germany and France is unthinkable. This shows how, through well-aimed efforts and by building up mutual confidence, historical enemies can become close partners.”

A strong mark of the reconciliation between Germany and France is the publication in 2006 of a common history textbook for high school students written in both German and French. This helps youths of both countries squarely look at history, promoting mutual understanding and cooperation between them.

Since the signing of the treaty, some 8 million German and French youths have taken part in exchange programs.

Despite the overall reconciliation, Ms. Merkel and Mr. Hollande are not necessarily on good terms. Germany, which has played a leading role in the efforts to solve the sovereign debt crisis of Europe, stresses the importance of financial discipline and calls for austerity measures.

Mr. Hollande is pursuing a growth policy. France is suffering from economic stagnation and a high unemployment rate. The balance between the two countries has been lost because Germany has become economically stronger.

It is hoped that the two countries will overcome economic, political and cultural differences to cooperate further in stabilizing the European situation.

Japan, for its part, should consider what concrete steps it should take to push reconciliation with its neighbors by taking cues from the experience of France and Germany.

  • Kahuna

    One day disputes will be settled with soccer matches. Sport is a way to have differences with rivals.. that are settled on a field with no blood shed.. when Germany plays France in World Cup.. you know what everyone is thinking. But with Germany.. everyone in Europe acknowledges even begrudgingly that the Germans are actually quality culture and people who had a point believing they were better and destined to run things .. they run the banking or would you rather the Russians and Greeks and French who not many people can stand and who have not done much for the world.. ever. So lets have a Japan China soccer match.. for the disputed islands… see what kind of drama that would create.

  • Jens Hvass

    In the light of the recent conflict, and the total lack of clarity and proportion, maybe best solution is that those small islands in quest be transfered to international domain as an nature reserve, where nobody enters. Somehow they are simply too small to fight about, too unimportant to risk destabilization of a whole region.

    Regarding the German post WW II process, one thing is the open exchange and dialogue that has taken part between Germany and France, but as important is a strong proces within Germany and the German people to face what happened during WW II in a full and honest perspective. Had the Germans been rejecting reality, this reconciliation process could not have happend.

    During my four years of living in Japan (spread over two decades), I never met a person who could talk freely, openly and honestly about what happened during WW II – and even less about what led Japan into that situation. Still Japanese school books are sugar coated, keeping a whole nation struck in a blurred perspective of something very sad and not so good and almost unmentionable that happened in some distant past that we hopefully some day all magically have forgotten about. But this is not how things work.

    I fully agree that cultural exhange on multiple levels is the key to Japan regaining true peace with its neighbours. But for friendship exchanges with China and Korea and Russia to be fruitful, Japan needs to do its homework, to reflect and to discuss what happened up to WW II, what made it possible to happen, and what it takes to ensure it will never happen again. It may be painful – but the present situation is even more so.

    And … the result will be releif – personal releif, cultural releif.

    More or less every nation has its long list of warfare with its neighbours. We have to come to terms with that, face in full what happened. We have to learn to forgive our neighbours, and to ask forgiveness. We have to deal with the imperfect. Only thereafter, the strategy of letting behind makes sense.

    On another level, we have to realise that to forgive is not something you do towards another person or nation. It is a necessity for setting yourself free. It is a gift to humankind.

  • nobuo takamura

    I don’t think of conflicts between countries without the novel ” The Last Class” by a French novelist. Learning and learning in a native language is quite important as well as helpful in solving international issues.Good learnings for children are sure to lead to good creation of both countries and result in a larger dominance of countries.