Ambs. Delattre, Ammon Speak on Elysée Treaty at 50
February 7, 2013
Radio host: This is River to River from Iowa Public Radio News, I’m Ben Kieffer. Nations, like people, have relationships, and those relationships also go through their ups and downs. Nothing illustrates that more clearly than the relationship between France and Germany. My guests this half hour are François Delattre, the Ambassador of France to the United States, and Peter Ammon, the Ambassador of Germany to the United States. They join us by phone today. Ambassadors, welcome to our program!
Amb. François Delattre: Oh, thank you!
Amb. Peter Ammon: Thank you very much.
Radio host: We want to mention that the two of you are guests of Iowa State University today. Tonight, you will discuss the European crisis and how your two countries are working on these and other issues at a lecture at Iowa State University at 8:00 p.m. in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union. The event is free and open to the public. The title of your talk, “Fifty Years of French-German Friendship.” Before we talk about an important anniversary, it is the 50th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty, a treaty that built a partnership between your two countries, I wonder if the two of you could take us back to what we might refer to as the “bad old times” between your two countries. My European ancestors emigrated to the United States from Alsace-Lorraine, a piece of land that your countries fought over for decades, perhaps even centuries. I wonder if you could take us back to help us imagine the intense animosity that existed between your two countries during the first half of the 20th century and before, to give us a sense of that, historically.
Peter Ammon: Well, let me give it a shot first. This is Peter Ammon speaking, the German Ambassador. I think it is hard to imagine today how people felt, let’s say only 100 years ago, about Alsace-Lorraine, where your parents and grandparents came from. I sometimes think that, even today, you see countries in the world, like the countries in Palestine and other places, where people think there’s no hope, that these people will never find peace, and what we have seen in Europe proves that there can be reconciliation, and today Germany and France are best friends.
Radio host: Ambassador Delattre, can you tell us a little bit more? What was the basis of that animosity between you two countries before coming together?
François Delattre: I think my colleague and friend, Peter Ammon, said it very well. Germany and France have been for literally centuries the arch enemies, you know, in Europe, in the heart of Europe. Since 1870, the two countries fought three wars against each other, and I will give you just an example of the beginning of World War I in 1914, during the first day of this war, we French lost [over] 30,000 people in the fight against Germany. Thirty-thousand people in one day. I think this simple figure gives you an idea of the fight that we had between our two countries, and in this respect, reconciliation is a true miracle. To quote Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, “This is a miracle that our heads of state and exceptional people from Germany, from France, were able to achieve in the aftermath of World War II, and not only to achieve, but to convince the two peoples in Germany and in France to follow.” And today, I think it’s fair to say that France and Germany are each other’s closest allies, and friends, and economic partners, and cultural partners.
Radio host: Indeed, and this year marks the 50th anniversary of something called the Elysée Treaty, a treaty that built a partnership between your two countries, France and Germany, signed in January of 1963 between the signatories, French President General Charles de Gaulle and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer together, this agreement to work on foreign affairs, economic, military, social issues. What brought these two iconic figures together, de Gaulle and Adenauer, to sign this treaty? What was the necessity of it at this time, 50 years ago?
Peter Ammon: I believe that, at the time, those two leaders had lived through a history of war, like François Delattre just said. War was such a terrible experience then that they had, in the end, to conclude, ’We have to do something completely new, and we have to reconcile our two people who have fought for generations.’ In the end, the treaty was more than just a treaty, it was, as François said, a miracle which has its effects even today, because it is the basis for European integration, and the German-French reconciliation, after so many wars, is the basis of Europe today.
Radio host: It really is amazing. Tell us, what are the lessons, though, from a relationship that goes from an intense animosity to a fruitful cooperation over decades? This change, dramatic change, what are the lessons to be drawn from these past 50 years, that relationship, that can be perhaps learned in other parts of the world?
François Delattre: Sure. François speaking, François the French Ambassador. I believe the Elysée Treaty very well embodies the European dream. Behind this Treaty of the Elysée, you have, as Peter very well said, the willingness of two exceptional heads of state to reconcile their peoples to make possible something that was just unthinkable a few years ago during the Second World War. That’s number one, and it’s a miracle in itself. The second point is that, at the same time, the two men plus the others, Schuman, Monnet, and a couple of others, wanted to build the European dream. A dream based on peace, against war, for sure; a dream based on prosperity, too; and a dream based on the willingness to build a European identity that would be able to exist by itself on the world stage, to be able to be a global player in today’s and tomorrow’s worlds. So, that’s it. I believe what is important in this treaty is the European dream, and now, behind this treaty, I believe you have a universal message attempting to say, ’Yes, even in the bloodiest, most terrible situations, reconciliation is an option. It’s possible.’ And today when we Americans and Europeans speak to the people in the Balkans, we say the same thing. We say, “Look at what Germany and France were able to do together, so there is hope, there is a chance.” When we speak to people in the Middle East, we say the same. We say, “Look at what the French and the Germans were able to do over the years, so there is hope. Please take your responsibilities.” So, this Franco-German reconciliation, I believe, and here you recognize the traditional and well-known French modesty, I believe it’s a source of inspiration in today’s world.
Radio host: Let’s go to today’s challenges after reflecting on the past 50 years since that key treaty, Ambassadors. Let’s have you comment on the key challenges your countries, the European Union, face today. The top of that list has to be the economic crisis, the European Union’s integration. What is at the point of that spear right now, as far as what you face in a crisis?
Peter Ammon: I believe that what we have just heard from François, that there’s a very deep will among the Europeans to build a European Union, is quite often underestimated here in the U.S. The euro and the European economic integration is not only an issue of economic opportunity, it is a very deep-rooted political post, political objectives, and as you have seen now in the crisis where we had to show solidarity with all countries that have been affected by the crisis. Most of our governments, they are ready to cough up huge sums of money to stabilize the peripheral country of the European Union, and this can mostly explain by what François just said earlier, that there is a strong political will to build a union, and we will fight for it.
Radio host: You mentioned your currency, the Euro, which has been around for over a decade now. Some observers criticize it as just a political device used to create unity without much economic value.
François Delattre: I believe, to oversimplify, that the European integration process, whose engine is really the Franco-German friendship, is like a rocket with three floors. The first floor is the marché unique, the single market: the zone of free trade, free movement of goods, persons, services, that’s number one.
Radio host: The first stage, and that happened in decades prior.
François Delattre: Yes, absolutely. The second stage is about the euro, the fact that the euro – which is a teenager, by the way, 13 or 14 years old – has already been a great success story, promoting growth in Europe and also promoting American exports to and investment in Europe. So that’s the second stage.
Radio host: Like a teenager, though, creating a little bit of a problem at this time.
François Delattre: Well, but the euro is back on the right track, by the way. And the third stage is about the political integration of Europe. How can Europe assert itself on the world stage, be a global player, contribute with our American friends to solve the problems of this world? For example, Europe today contributes 60% of the world’s social development aid.
Radio host: In forming the European Union, the term “The United States of Europe” has been used over the years, sometimes as an aspiration, I suppose. I wonder if you could talk about for our sake, so that we can understand the European Union a little bit more, the ways in which the European Union is like and unlike the United States’ union?
Peter Ammon: Well, the European Union was formed a bit more than 50 years ago. So compare this to the U.S. The United States are more than 200 years old now, and they have gone through a number of crises to build a perfect union. So you’re ahead of us in time, so to speak. But the European Union is a generational project. Give us some time, and I’m sure that my children and my grandchildren will be a better union in the future.
François Delattre: The beauty of it also is that Europe and the U.S. have been key to each other’s success. We Europeans, and we French in particular, have been instrumental in the birth of the United States of America. And I’d like to mention [the Marquis de] Lafayette as a French founding father of your nation. Conversely, the United States has been instrumental in making the European integration process possible. In the aftermath of World War II, exceptional Americans were able to conceive the Marshall Plan and therefore to lead Europe to organize itself. And you Americans were really at the origin of this European integration process. And we cannot thank you enough for that.
Radio host: You reminded me of Lafayette. As a matter of fact, the studio where I’m sitting, we are on a street behind our studio that is called Lafayette Street.
François Delattre: Oh, good. That’s why you are so good.
Peter Ammon: Actually, throw in Baron von Steuben, who was Washington’s chief of staff as well.
Radio host: Okay, we’ll work on a street name for that.
Peter Ammon: Fair enough, fair enough.
Radio host: Now, talk a little bit more, ambassadors, about why the U.S., why we here in Iowa, should be concerned about the economic health of Europe?
Peter Ammon: Well, we are all concerned about each other’s health. And, of course, there is a strong influence on each other. One figure I came across just the other day which I found surprising is that, for example, Europe buys four times as much of American exports as China does. So we are a very important economic partner. We Germans have created about 600,000 jobs through our investment in America, well-paying jobs, by the way. So there must be a strong American interest in continuing trade and investment relationships, and I think we must work on this more. There is talk now about creating something similar to the Transpacific Partnership across the Atlantic. And I just heard your Vice President Biden speak last week where we debated these ideas. And I think that there is so much opportunity ahead of us, and so much interest on both sides, that we really should work on it.
Radio host: While still a remote possibility, we still hear in the press talk of a possible, though remote chance, of a breakup of the European Union. Do either of you see this as even a remote possibility?
Peter Ammon: No, never. Actually, I can tell you that I was quite surprised – I’ve been ambassador in the U.S. for a year and a half now – and I was quite surprised about some responses in the media. People saw the end of the euro every three months. And actually what happened was, the best investment people could make last year were to buy Greek funds. Some hedge funds made a fortune out of it. So it’s just the opposite.
François Delattre: You know, I cannot agree more with my German colleague here. Number one, I think it’s very important to realize that the ties between Europe and America are really the backbone, the anchor of the world economy. Together, Europe and the United States will count for close to 50% of the world’s GDP, and we are each other’s closest economic partners by far. That’s number one. I think it’s really important to realize that we Europeans and Americans, confronted with growing economic competition from the emerging world, we have to be together. In other words, to make a request of China, India, Brazil, which are a source of opportunities, of course. And I will tell you that in the transatlantic dialogue that we have, of course we speak about the crisis in Mali, where we took the lead, the crisis in Iran, where we took the lead again together, but we more and more speak about how do we convince the Chinese, the Indians, the Brazilians to share our vision of intellectual property rights, for example. How do we better fight against social dumping, monetary dumping, environmental dumping coming from these emerging countries, while of course trying to increase our ties with these countries? So more and more at the heart of the transatlantic partnership you have the values that are the core of what we are, you have the strategic national security interests, but you also have the economic interests that we share.
Radio host: In the closing moments here I’d like to ask each of you for some personal reflections. I see in looking at your bios that each of you served previously as ambassadors in each other’s country as well. I wonder if Peter, Ambassador Peter Ammon, can you tell me what you like most about France that you don’t have in Germany? And then perhaps François Delattre could repay the compliment by telling us what he likes most about Germany that they don’t have in France?
Peter Ammon: Well, the differences between the two countries are still there, but they are slowly disappearing, I think. When you move from rural France to rural Germany, the differences would not be so great as they were earlier. But of course, I myself was, in my young days already, much impressed by French culture, philosophy, their cuisine, their cooking. These elements, of course, gave me a very favorable view of the country, and today I have so many French friends. My children have French friends.
Radio host: Ambassador Delattre, your comment, your compliment.
François Delattre: You know, Germany is a country I feel very close to. German is my first foreign language, of which I’ve forgotten a bit, but still I can catch up. And I was posted to Bonn, Germany, from 1988 to 1991, between German reunification. And I still have vivid memories of the fall of the Wall, the tears of joy of our German friends as well as my own. It was an emotional experience that I will never, ever forget.
Radio host: Have either of you ever visited Iowa before?
Peter Ammon: Well, I’ve been here four times, and I just discovered there is not a state here in the U.S., apart from Washington, D.C., where I live of course, that I have visited so frequently.
Radio host: Hmm, really. What, Peter Ammon, if you would go out on the street in your country, what would people say comes to mind when they hear the name “Iowa?” What kind of responses do you think you would get if you asked?
Peter Ammon: Well, some would say that this is an Indian name. Of course, we all have read the stories about Red Indians, and this has inspired our thinking. But I also think you would meet a number of people in the streets in Germany today that are aware of the huge agricultural potential of the industry you have here. And many have… I heard that most Iowans are of German extraction. I think this is the first ethnic background. And so quite often you hear people say, “Well, I have a grandfather who has a cousin that has emigrated to the U.S., and so on.”
François Delattre: For us French, Iowa is really perceived as being at the heart of America, of the America that we so much love over the years. And I will tell you the only thing we do not understand is the way you pronounce Des Moines. And in French we say Des Moines, of course. That’s the only misunderstanding we have. Otherwise we are exactly on the same line.
Radio host: Now we have the authority to finally give us the translation of Des Moines. So go ahead, Ambassador Delattre, what does that mean?
François Delattre: Des Moines actually means “monks,” “some monks” in French. And when you pronounce Des Moines, it’s funny for a Frenchman. And this is the third time that I’ve been in Iowa, and hopefully not the last time. Hopefully I get invited again.
Radio host: Very good, we would love to see you again. Ambassador Peter Ammon, Ambassador of Germany to the United States; François Delattre, Ambassador of France to the United States, it’s been a delight to talk to you. We want to mention that the two of you will be speaking tonight at Iowa State University: title of your talk, “Fifty Years of the French-German Relationship,” 8 P.M. in the Great Hall in Memorial Union. It’s free and open to the public. And thank you so much for sharing some time with us. Auf Wiedersehen and au revoir.
Peter Ammon: Thank you very much, Ben. Auf Wiedersehen!
François Delattre: Thank you very much, au revoir!