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Franco-German treaty signed amid ‘growing populism’ in Europe

Aachen, Germany - German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have signed a new friendship treaty between their two countries on the 56th anniversary of the Elysee Treaty signing in Paris.

Treaty of Aachen

The so-called Treaty of Aachen commits the two neighbours to increased cooperation on foreign and defence policy, crime and terrorism, international development and research and economic integration.

The treaty, which still requires approval from both countries' parliaments, comes at a time when the European Union is struggling with rising nationalism that has resulted in Britain's exit from the bloc and threatens to tear the remaining 27 members apart.

Speaking during the ceremony at Aachen's town hall, Merkel said the treaty was necessary in light of "growing populism and nationalism."

"Seventy-four years after World War II, the duration of a human life, things that were considered self-evident are once again being questioned," Merkel said. "This is why a redefinion of the direction of our cooperation is necessary."

Macron said in his speech that threats to the EU came not only from outside the bloc, "but also from within our societies if we fail to respond to the raging anger" of citizens.

He was referring in part to France's so-called Yellow Vest movement, whose supporters are angry about the increase in fuel taxes and complain about road tolls, the rising costs of a commute and being priced out of urban centres.

Conspiracy theories

Right-wing leaders including Marine Le Pen have seized on conspiracy theories that the treaty paves the way for ceding control of the Alsace region in eastern France and sharing France's permanent UN Security Council seat with Germany.

Also speaking during the ceremony, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said Germany and France should open their planned bilateral cooperation up to other members of the EU in order to "strengthen union and solidarity" within the bloc.

Romania took over the rotating EU presidency earlier this month.

Greater ambition in EU policy

In press interviews ahead of the meeting, veteran German Christian Democrat (CDU) politician Wolfgang Schaeuble, currently president of the German Bundestag, called for greater ambition in EU policy.

"We once again need concrete and meaningful integration projects that make clear to people that Europe achieves things in a completely different dimension and quality than each country on its own," Schaeuble said.

In an editorial in the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called for closer cooperation between France and Germany in the face of populism, trade disputes and conflicts impacting Europe.

"We must not rest on our laurels," Maas wrote. "The strong Franco-German relationship needs to be put to work in the service of a strong, capable Europe."

On January 22, 1963, French president Charles de Gaulle and German chancellor Konrad Adenauer signed the Elysee Treaty that made provision for regular consultations between the former enemies at top government level.