Guest Column

OPINION: Why the German and French ambassadors are swapping jobs

2020-01-21 10:41
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron shake hands after addressing a press conference after talks at the chancellery in Berlin. (John MacDougall, AFP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron shake hands after addressing a press conference after talks at the chancellery in Berlin. (John MacDougall, AFP)

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The political ties between our two countries are extraordinary. What's crucial though, is that our partnership is not something bureaucratic or abstract. It has been built by millions of people on both sides of the river Rhine, writes Martin Schäfer and Aurélien Lechevallier      

Who would you trust to take over your job?

To take over your entire team? Your office? Your desk? Your chair? It’d better be a good friend!

That’s exactly what we will be doing for one day tomorrow: Swap jobs, swap teams, swap embassies: French Ambassador to South Africa Aurélien Lechevallier will become German Ambassador for one day, taking over the Mannschaft of the German embassy.

And German Ambassador Martin Schäfer will head to the French embassy in South Africa to be in charge of the équipe there.

It takes trust to do that, and not just because we will both have to clean up our respective desks and hide all incriminating evidence of gummibear wrappers (in Martin's case) and croissant crumbs (in the case of Aurélien).

Our Ambassadorial swap is more than a gimmick. It is a symbol of the deep trust and friendship that prevails between our two countries. Franco-German cooperation is not only thriving in Paris, Berlin, Brussels or New York but also here in South Africa.

Exactly one year ago, on 22 January 2019, German chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron signed a new treaty on Franco-German friendship in Aachen / Aix-La-Chapelle.

The treaty is quite an impressive document. It seals an extraordinary relationship - one that had been defined by war and animosities for centuries.

Our two countries' reconciliation after the Second World War was historic.

With the Elysee Treaty of 1963, our two nations, formerly sworn enemies, said "no" to war and destruction - and "yes" to friendship and Europe.

Through the Treaty of Aachen, Germany and France are now pooling their strengths and aim to play a greater role together in Europe and on the global stage.

We, wholeheartedly, believe that for Europe to be strong, sovereign and based on solidarity, Germany and France must join forces. We want to put our friendship in the service of a united Europe.

We are stronger together, that is the clear message.

This is not only true when ones looks at Europe, but also in the case of the African continent.

We recognise that we will only be able to tackle our global problems, if we stand united.

For this reason, France and Germany want to continue to drive forward the Alliance for Multilateralism.

What is that, one may ask?

Is it just some abstract idea?

At the United Nations General Assembly in September 2019, more than 50 Foreign Ministers came together to show that is not just an idea, and took up our invitation to be part of the Alliance.

Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s Minister for International Relations and Cooperation, was one of these esteemed colleagues. Now, more than 80 countries have joined.

France, Germany and South Africa agree that at this time, we need more international cooperation not less. After all, the global challenges we are dealing with, including climate change, terrorism, digitalisation, and migration, are extremely complex.

None of these challenges are confined within national borders. These challenges can only be tackled using global responses, not with national solutions or a return to nationalist thinking, as the nationalists and populists would have us believe.

We stand ready to move forward when it comes to shaping our collective future.

We believe, for example, that we need to strengthen security and defense in Europe while maintaining the transatlantic partnership. The key is to try to move forward together.

Franco-German cooperation means that we discuss our ideas with our other partners and seek to find common solutions.

In the Treaty of Aachen, our two countries also reiterated an ever-closer partnership with Africa. Our focus is on the private sector, vocational training and women's empowerment.

Our two countries have launched an annual dialogue to enable us to plan and implement our strategies on international development policies together, in a more effective manner.

French and German troops already work side by side in Mali.

We have put the security situation in the Sahel region firmly on the UN agenda, as well as a strong focus on the role of women in peace and security matters. We want to make a new effort to bring peace to war-torn Libya.

The political ties between our two countries are extraordinary. What's crucial though, is that our partnership is not something bureaucratic or abstract.

It has been built by millions of people on both sides of the river Rhine.

More than 2 000 town twinning arrangements exist between France and Germany!

These have led to remarkably diverse and concrete forms of cooperation. We want to build on that, for example by making daily life for people in border regions easier, promoting bilingualism, improving rail and tramway connections and joining up digital networks more effectively.

Traditionally, France and Germany have been described as "the engine" of the European Union and its development.

But in this day and age, as both our countries are pushing climate-friendly policies and environmental innovation, we should view this motor not as an old diesel engine but as an innovative, sleek hybrid one.

That modern engine empowers us to sometimes move ahead faster, but sometimes slower. And what's also true: this engine does not rely on pitch-perfect agreements in order to function.

No true friendship is without disagreements.

In fact, healthy arguments and joint efforts to find solutions provide the fuel for solid and trustful partnerships.

Trust and confidence - maybe that's exactly what's needed when we sit down at each other's desks tomorrow, brushing off sweet wrappers and engaging with our respective teams.

We will each meet new people, hear new arguments, and see the other side of the one coin that forms the Franco-German partnership in South Africa.

We are looking forward to an exciting day. We hope it will be insightful, "inspirant" and simply "wunderbar"!

- Martin Schäfer is the German Ambassador to SA; Aurélien Lechevallier is the French Ambassador to SA

Read more on:    germany  |  france  |  ambassador
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