« Reconciliation has founded today’s Europe » - Tribune des Ambassadeurs français et allemand en Chine dans le Financial Times [中文]
« Nous sommes les héritiers de toute cette histoire. Nous sommes les héritiers de deux déflagrations qui auraient dû jeter la nuit sur notre Europe, celles du siècle passé, des deux guerres mondiales qui ont décimé l’Europe et auraient pu nous engloutir. Mais ensemble, nous avons surmonté l’épreuve sans jamais en oublier les leçons. L’idée a triomphé des ruines. Le désir de fraternité a été plus fort que la vengeance et la haine ».
When we are reminded of the terrible Nanjing massacre, which began exactly 80 years ago on December 13, 1937, we inevitably think of our own dramatic experiences of World War II in Europe. Too terrible are the atrocities committed at the time to forget them : the death of 65 million people, including the extermination of six million Jews as well as other minority groups, the devastation of swaths of land, of villages, and of entire cities. We cannot ask the victims and their descent to forget. We need, collectively, to reflect on what happened, to forgive and to build on the reconciliation that is indispensable for building a common future.
With its attack on Poland on 1 September 1939, Germany unleashed World War II in Europe and caused untold suffering with this and subsequent conquests. About six years later Germany was defeated and divided among the four major allied powers. There were plans to transform Germany forevermore into an agricultural state without weapons and with no means of ever starting a war again.
But the victors decided otherwise : Only a few years after millions of people were killed, tortured and robbed by Germans throughout Europe, West Germany was invited to take part in a new European cooperation. And the invitation came just from France, the historical enemy that Germany had fiercely fought in several conflicts even before the Second World War.
The hand stretched out by France and the other Founding fathers was far more than a gesture of magnanimity. It came from men of vision who, with jean Monnet, wanted their children to be allowed to grow up and live in a peaceful, stable, democratic and prosperous Europe. It led to the “Schuman plan”, published on 9 May 1950, which created the first pillar of the European integration, the European Coal and Steel Community. It manifested the will to pursue a new and peaceful way of dealing with each other after decades of enmity. Germany took this outstretched hand. Both are necessary : A lasting reconciliation requires both the confession of guilt of the perpetrators and the willingness of the victims to forgive. This is the first experience we have made.
The second experience is that reconciliation only works if it is not limited to just remembering individual crimes. There is more to it : The perpetrators must try to make good the injustice resulting from war. Of course, death and suffering are hard to quantify in money value, and extrapolated to all victims, adequate reparations are not feasible if the defeated state is to remain viable. But if the victims acknowledge the earnest efforts of the perpetrators, another important step towards reconciliation is done.
The third experience is that reconciliation is a lasting success if both sides continuously invest in forward-looking peace projects. Nothing is more successful in German-French reconciliation than the efforts of both sides to bring together the youth of both countries. They are the glue that holds Germany and France together in spite of all possible differences. For instance, the French-German Youth office, established in 1963, grants subsidies to more than 8000 youth exchange programs every year ; and the French-German University offers 183 French-German curriculums which benefit around 6500 students.
The great story of the rapprochement and interaction of our two nations at the heart of Europe demonstrates that past wars and atrocities do not necessarily exclude a common future. France and Germany can be proud of what they have achieved together. Today we have joint Franco-German brigades, common history books, and a vast number of other joint programs and projects in all walks of life.
Even more importantly, yesterday’s enemies are today’s engine of European integration. Committed to building on all the opportunities and mechanisms included in the Lisbon Treaty from 2009, both President Emmanuel Macron and Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel are committed to deepening further the European integration which is a crucial project for peace, freedom and prosperity in Europe. Not only between Germany and France, but between all the countries of the so-called Schengen area the borders are open. We use a common currency in the so-called euro zone, we coordinate a large number of policy areas among member states and we even have transferred the decision making authority regarding several policy areas to the European institutions.
Today, a war between Germany and France is inconceivable. The same applies to all other Member States of the European Union. This demonstrates that the political, economic and social dividends of German-French and European reconciliation are enormous.
These are the thoughts we have in mind when we look at the history of other countries that have suffered terrible injustice. Will it be possible to transfer the experiences of Europe to Asia ? We cannot answer this question. But it is important to us to share our own experiences in the context with the anniversary of the beginning of the Nanjing massacre.