It has been one year since the signing of the Aachen Treaty. How do you evaluate its implementation and what else is there to work on?
Klinke: What the Aachen Treaty added to the Élysée Treaty is bringing German and French citizens even closer together. We have founded the Joint Citizen´s Fund, we have set up a number of projects for young people including dual degree programmes, language learning, mobility and more. We have also introduced a Council of Economic Experts. Furthermore, a Cross-border Cooperation Committee has been established in order to find solutions to everyday cross-border challenges at regional and local level. Promoting links between our citizens will make our lives easier, more attractive and fulfilled.
Veyssière: Our common objective with the Aachen treaty is convergence: of our economic and social models, of our regulations in our border areas, of our economic analysis etc – all of this with a view to European integration. This is a step forward compared to the 1963 Élysée Treaty, which was more focused on the message of reconciliation. Franco German reconciliation is vital in itself, but it is also an asset for all Europeans. To move forward and concretely build this convergence, we have identified 15 very concrete projects annexed to the treaty, which are in progress. This includes: Franco-German cultural institutes, a digital platform, mobility projects, joint work for the future closure and dismantling of the Fessenheim French nuclear plant, space research, social discussions, a forum for future etc. A part of this common work is done also in Zagreb. Let us only mention the Eurocampus or our project on Culture and Ethics in Gaming in the framework of the French German cultural fund.
Did Germany and France separate themselves from the rest of the EU by passing the Aachen Treaty, having in mind that no other member state joined them?
Veyssière: This project of convergence is in essence open to all Member States. We definitively encourage other countries to join in some of these cooperations or to propose projects and operations. We cooperate closely with Croatia and are determined to continue to do so.
Klinke: The Aachen Treaty invites others to join us in certain fields and projects and this is what we have seen so far, Croatia included.
What about the Three Seas Initiative, there is some criticism that it wants to split the EU and that it’s anti-German. How do you comment on that?
Klinke: The Three Seas Initiative is important and welcome. As a Baltic coastal state, Germany is very much interested in it and we want to become a full member. It is an important instrument for promoting and fostering cohesion and connectivity among EU member states. I am sure it is a vital asset that can contribute to the good of the EU as a whole.
Veyssière: In the EU, we have many activities that are put together for specific types or groups of countries. Look at Schengen or at the Eurozone for example. And this is relevant because some countries do share some things stronger between themselves. What is important is that it is not excluding others – every Member State should ultimately join the Eurozone for example, unless they have negotiated an opt out when they entered the EU – and that it takes into account the EU tools, energy and commitments. Whatever a group of countries is doing, we must articulate it with what the EU as a whole is doing.
Since Great Britain is leaving the EU, Germany and France remain among most powerful countries. How much does the future of EU depend on them?
Veyssière: Every country is important in the EU.
Klinke: That’s exactly what I wanted to say. Every country has one vote in Brussels. We all have a shared responsibility and commitment.
Veyssière: And when you look now how the decisions are made in the EU, we have a Council of ministers but also the European Parliament and the decisions there are not based upon national interest but on a political basis. As far as the Council goes, the presidency is key and here size does not matter – a smaller Member States can be more agile and more able to be seen as an honest broker and not someone who is pushing its own national agenda.
Talking about defence, we have PESCO but also the French Intervention Initiative. How can they be combined?
Veyssière: PESCO is very important for the EU. Everyone can join PESCO. We have had a very long and fruitful discussion between France and Germany about PESCO and we should go forward. The French Initiative is different because it is more focused on military operations. When talking about defense, it is important not to oppose various initiatives, because ultimately, it is one and the same military tool that can be used nationally, in an ad hoc coalition, in the EU, NATO or the UN. We have to work together to increase the EU defense tools and mechanisms. We have to work close to build a strong European defense industry.
Klinke: We are fully committed to progressively building credible, coherent and effective European security and defense structures, thereby strengthening the European pillar in NATO and making full use of the European Intervention Initiative. What we are aiming for is a common strategic culture.
Macron has recently criticized NATO and Angela Merkel defended it. How do you comment on this?
Veyssière: I would not put it like that. What the president said was intended to arouse a reaction. We criticise NATO because we love NATO, otherwise we would not care! We are fully committed NATO members and we welcome that the London Summit launched a reflection on the future of the organisation.
Klinke: NATO is and will remain the cornerstone of our security and defense.
Margarethe Vestager has prohibited Siemens proposed acquisition of Alstom but Germany minister Peter Almaier came out with the proposal of creating big European companies. How do your two governments see this?
Veyssière: Ms. Vestager said a few days ago that she is thinking about reviewing the competition policy. Let’s wait for the Commission to express its view and have this important discussion under the leadership of the Croatian presidency. We need to keep strong rules but also to take better into consideration the world around us.
Klinke: This will indeed be one of the challenges facing Croatia’s Presidency. We want to promote a European industrial strategy to make sure that the EU remains attractive to investors, also in 2030. We welcome Croatia’s presidency and the chance to discuss these challenges.
Germany’s minister Olaf Scholz proposed creating a full Eurozone banking union in which depositors will be protected against a banking collapse. How does France see this strengthening of the banking union?
Veyssière: We need a strong banking union. We also need a strong Eurozone budget which is the way to better integrate the Eurozone countries. It is a very sensitive and complicated thing and we have to explain to the non-Eurozone country what is going on of course. But the EU has to be prepared for a possible financial crisis.
Klinke: We want to create and promote resilience. What we need is care and realism in dealing with this sensitive issue.
This proposal can be seen unpopular in EU members with weaker banking systems…
Klinke: This is about building technical resilience and not providing popular answers. Sometimes you have to make difficult decisions in life, but it goes without saying that communication and convincing the European public is key as well.
Veyssière: To be effective, one needs deposit rules, resolution banking, union banking and special funds for emergency. If one of this fails, the structure is weakened. We cannot forget the last financial crisis. It took us years to overcome it because we lacked some basic tools.
How do you assess the start of Croatia’s EU Council Presidency and what do you expect from it?
Veyssière: We are convinced Croatia can have a very successful presidency. You have very well prepared staff with highly competent specialists. As the last EU member to join the club, Croatia is also in a perfect situation to push forward some very sensitive subjects such as fighting climate change and protecting human rights and rule of law for example. To chair the Council of EU is the ultimate test for a recent member, and in a more general view it is always a big opportunity for any country.
Klinke: The overarching motto of this presidency is “A strong Europe in a world full of challenges”, and this sets the right tone. We are pleased that Croatia wants to strengthen the role of the EU as a global actor. In order to be internationally relevant, the EU should work closely together with its partners and neighbours. Other important topics will also be high on the agenda, such as digitalisation, the climate and environment, Brexit, the budget and the rule of law. We also support a new push for European democracy and therefore welcome the Conference of the Future of Europe. We are friends and partners and we fully support the Croatian presidency. I am convinced that, in doing so, we could also ensure a smooth transition to our own presidency.
Germany supports the enlargement of the EU, mainly North Macedonia and Albania, but France does not. How do you comment on that?
Veyssière: We definitively reaffirm the EU vocation of all Western Balkans countries. Each case is different. As far as opening negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, we are ready to engage constructively. We need some concrete progress on the ground but also that collectively we would review the EU enlargement policy in order for it to be more generous but also reversible if need be. The Commission is going to share its thoughts on that in a few days. It is an important discussion. We will continue to work together with our EU partners and in particular with the Croatian presidency. A success of the Zagreb Summit will be a success for Europe.
Klinke: We particularly welcome the EU-Western Balkans Summit that will take place in Zagreb this May. We hope that positive decisions will be possible by then regarding North Macedonia and Albania. We support close cooperation with neighbours.
Anything to conclude?
Klinke: The German-French cooperation means daily work, also for us here in Croatia. Let me just give you one example: the Eurocampus in Zagreb, two fully licensed German and French multilingual schools, which are an integral part of the Croatian educational landscape. Already since 2005, pupils – Croats, French, Germans and more – have not only been benefiting from the educational excellence of our two countries under the slogan “one roof, two schools”. It is even more what I would call living the European experience here in Zagreb, here in Croatia.
Veyssière: Absolutely. Among the five Franco-German educational establishments in the world, the Zagreb Eurocampus is the one with the strongest Franco-German educational synergies, for the benefit of Croatia since the majority of pupils are Croatian. They receive a European education which helps them to open up more to the world. We are very proud of this success. During her visit to Zagreb last November, Ms. Amélie de Montchalin, State Secretary to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs responsible for European affairs, visited the Eurocampus and met the pupils. She also exchanged with the Croatian branch of the regional NGO Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR Croatia), which has just received an award in France. We are working together concretely, in Brussels, Strasbourg, Paris, Berlin, also in Zagreb and throughout Croatia, in a European spirit, at the service of our common values, for the future.