Franco-German friendship a bulwark to the rise of populism

Laurent Pic, the French ambassador to Japan, and Hans Carl von Werthern, the German ambassador to Japan, jointly contributed the following piece ahead of Nov. 11, which marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

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Today (Nov. 11) we are commemorating the 100th anniversary of the armistice, marking the end of the First World War on the Western front, where millions of soldiers, including millions of French and Germans, had fought for four years. President Emmanuel Macron of France will welcome German Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany to Paris, along with 100 representatives of countries that took part in the war, including Japan.

Indeed, the conflict, which started in 1914, expanded to cover a large part of the world. Hostilities raged on several continents. Japan was one of the protagonists and its forces were involved in battles in Asia and Europe. In the end, the war claimed more than 9 million lives, including more than 2 million Germans and 1.5 million French. Pure carnage.

As far as we Europeans are concerned, the First World War was synonymous with slaughter, a tragedy for millions of families who lost their loved ones. The conflict had a profound impact on the demographics and economies of Europe. However, the end of the war and all its horrors unfortunately did not pave the way to a long-lasting peace. Twenty years later, another war, even more deadly and destructive, devastated the world.

After 1945, our two countries, which had long regarded one another as “hereditary enemies,” started a profound reconciliation process, thus ending decades of hostility during which they had opposed each other in three major conflicts in less than 100 years. The historic handshakes between Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer, and between Franois Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl, epitomize the Franco-German friendship, a friendship born from common suffering and thus bearing so much hope, not only for our countries but also for the whole European continent and beyond.

The European Union as we know it today would not have been possible without this reconciliation. France and Germany are more committed than ever to the European project, which now forms part of our very identities. The European Union is a region of peace and stability which is unique in the world. Walls which used to separate us have disappeared, and 500 million people live in a continent of prosperity and free movement. Our countries are united by unique bonds in politics, business, culture and education.

France and Germany, thanks to their European commitment and their foreign policies, are doing more than ever to serve peace all over the world, promoting a strong and effective multilateralism.

In many countries populist movements which pretend to give easy answers to complex questions are challenging our achievements of the last decades. The world order as built since 1945 is today threatened by unilateral tendencies, suggesting that “might makes right” or giving rise to over-simplified visions which lead to misunderstanding and conflict.

Looking at these developments, some draw parallels with the circumstances which led to the First World War. Facing such a situation, France and Germany, having learned from history, resolutely support collective solutions of the multilateral order. In this endeavor, we are happy to join with strong partners such as Japan with whom we share common core values.

This is the way to work together to protect peace and stability, support economic development and the reduction of inequalities, and face global challenges such as climate change which threaten the very existence of mankind.

Because we understand the cost of the havoc of war, France and Germany are resolutely committed to avoiding the errors of the past and promote ever closer friendship with each other.