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Youth Culture Forum: Match between France and Germany

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How did the relationship between Germany and France influence the development of Europe? How did the Euro come into being? What will the European Union be like after the presidential elections in both France and Germany? 

In the Lecture Hall of the Zheng Dong Library, Peiyang Park Campus, Tianjin University, Zhang Danhong, the senior economic journalist as well as the senior editor of Deutsche Welle, Germany’s public international broadcaster, discussed these hot topics and delivered a speech on rivalry and cooperation between Germany and France. 

Key to the peace of Europe 

 “Franco-German reconciliation after World War II was the key to peace in Europe.” Zhang said, and then she explained the process of reconciliation in detail.  

In 1950, the French foreign minister Robert Schuman proposed the establishment of The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) as a way to prevent further war between France and Germany, through which Germany would be unable to prepare for war secretly. The organization of the ECSC greatly eased the tension between the two countries and laid a solid foundation for the future reconciliation. The breakthrough came in 1963. On January 22nd, 1963 at the élysée Palace in Paris, German Chancellor Adenauer and French President De Gaulle signed The élysée Treaty, which established a new foundation for relations that ended centuries of rivalry between France and Germany. Since then, the development of Europe has turned a brand-new page, said Zhang. 

History of the Euro 

Having introduced the process of Franco-German reconciliation, Zhang shifted her focus to France’s plan of monetary unification in Europe. She first talked about “the snake in the tunnel” - the first attempt at European monetary cooperation in the 1970s, aiming at limiting fluctuations between different European currencies. This practice came to an end in two years because France had remained in trade deficit for years and it was hard for it to maintain the stability of exchange rates.  

However, the step of establishing a European Monetary System didn’t stop there. After long-term negotiations, although Germany held the opinion that a political alliance should be formed earlier than an economic alliance, it finally compromised and agreed to replace the Deutsche Mark with the Euro. 

When talking about the appearance of the Euro, Zhang described it as a premature baby. In order to answer the question of whether the Euro strengthened unity and promoted the development of European countries, she displayed some statistics showing that except for Germany, the industrial production of other European countries doesn’t exceed that of 1999.  

Present and future of the European Union 

After the history of the Euro, Zhang led the audience through the European political situation. As is widely known, several crises have occurred in Europe these past few years. After the Greek debt crisis and the currency crisis, in 2015, the European refugee crisis broke out and profoundly impacted Europe. German Chancellor Merkel’s decision to open the border earned her respect and admiration all over the world. However, Zhang further explained that the intention of this decision was to comfort and win the support of German people because after several decades’ peace, German people couldn’t bear the miserable scenes happening on their borders.  

After Germany’s opening of their borders, some European countries followed the example of Germany and opened their borders too. However, thousands of refugees packing into European countries brought a series of direct and indirect consequences - the growth of populism around European countries, the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union and so on.  

Also, Zhang pointed out that when confronted with crises, Germany and France always have different attitudes. For example, during the refugee crisis, France firmly refused Germany’s proposal of opening the border. Apart from this, the difference and dispute between these two countries greatly influences their planning for the future development of the European Union as well as the role they play in it. 

At the end of the lecture, Zhang told the audience that the cooperation of leaders from Germany and France sometimes can make a difference in international affairs. Since the presidential elections of Germany and France will be held this autumn, how the European Union will go forward and lead the development of European countries still remains to be seen. 

Zhang’s lecture inspired the audience’s interest in the international situation and left space for us to think about the future development of Europe as well as the whole world. After the question and answer session, the lecture came to an end with warm applause. 

By: Chen Shupei

Photo: Li Qian (TWT News Center)

Editors: Qin Mian and Christopher Peter Clarke