AACHEN (Germany) • The leaders of France and Germany have signed a new treaty to update their 1963 post-war reconciliation accord, aiming to reinvigorate the European Union's main axis as growing euro-sceptic nationalism tests the bloc's cohesion.
At a warm ceremony in the German border city of Aachen yesterday, a historical symbol of European concord, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron sought to show they are ready to give fresh leadership to the troubled EU project.
The leaders want the 16-page Aachen Treaty, negotiated over the past year to update the 1963 Elysee Treaty of post-war reconciliation, to give an impulse to European unity that has been strained by Brexit, immigration and the euro zone crisis.
"We are doing this because we live in special times and because in these times, we need resolute, distinct, clear, forward-looking answers," said Dr Merkel, noting Aachen was home to Charlemagne, whom she dubbed "the father of Europe".
Mr Macron said: "At a time when Europe is threatened by nationalism, which is growing from within, when Europe is shaken by the pains of Brexit and worried by global changes that go far beyond the national level... Germany and France must assume their responsibility and show the way forward."
Short on detail, the treaty extension commits to closer foreign and defence policy ties, but does little to push forward euro zone economic reform.
Dr Sabine von Oppeln, expert on Franco-German ties at Berlin's Free University, said of the slow progress on euro zone reform: "This could be an opportunity for a real renewal of cooperation, but I fear the chance has been lost."
Franco-German treaties are supposed to be milestones in the process of European integration, paving the way for the bloc as a whole to deepen cooperation.
"Today, Europe needs a revival of faith in the meaning of solidarity and unity, and I want to believe that enhanced Franco-German cooperation will serve this objective," said European Council chief Donald Tusk, who attended the ceremony with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.
However, Dr Merkel and Mr Macron, both of whom have struggled to maintain their authority over their own domestic politics, have failed this time to produce the wide-ranging vision to really enthuse europhiles.
The Aachen document stipulates that it will be a priority of German-French diplomacy for Germany to be accepted as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
The agreement also signals that Berlin and Paris will combat efforts by some nationalist politicians in Europe to erode the 28-nation EU.
Facing new challenges from US President Donald Trump as well as EU governments in Italy, Poland and Hungary, Dr Merkel and Mr Macron are keen to head off any breakthrough for eurosceptic parties in a European Parliament vote in May.
Eurosceptics have voiced their opposition. Mr Alexander Gauland, leader in Parliament of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), said: "The EU is now deeply divided. A German-French special relationship will alienate us even further from the other Europeans."
The original Elysee Treaty was signed in 1963 by Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and President Charles de Gaulle who, in the same year, vetoed the British application to join the European Community, the precursor of today's European Union.