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All Eyes on the Franco-German Relationship

While the Franco-German axis has long been central to European integration, it has also always been characterized by quarrels and even severe rifts. Yet now that Russia has come to represent a persistent threat to European security, the health of this old relationship has become more important than ever.

BERLIN – It is a common human prejudice to believe that everything was better in the past. But this bias rarely stands up to scrutiny, and perceptions of past Franco-German relations are no exception. While the bilateral relationship has long been of the utmost importance for Europe, it has also always been characterized by quarrels and even severe rifts.

The mythologizing is understandable. The Franco-German relationship was the original foundation of the European Union, which began as a coal and steel community in the early 1950s, and is still the EU’s central axis. Without France and Germany – the largest, most economically and politically important players, embodying the balance between the European North and the Mediterranean South – no real progress toward European integration would have been possible.

But with its enlargement in 2004, the EU’s internal workings became more complicated, because a new dimension was added to the traditional north-south orientation: Central and Eastern Europe. This region’s importance has only grown now that Russian President Vladimir Putin has invaded a sovereign neighboring country and brought large-scale war back to the continent.

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