OPINION | France and Germany's ambassadors: On friendship, solidarity and the new normal

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French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and US President Donald Trump at the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, in July 2017.
French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and US President Donald Trump at the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, in July 2017.

Following the Second World War, France and Germany were sworn enemies. The two countries overcame that following the signing of the Elysee Treaty in 1963. France and Germany now want to improve their relationship with South Africa, write French Ambassador Aurélien Lechevallier and German Ambassador Martin Schäfer.

If 2020 has taught the world anything, it is that our lives and our fates are inextricably intertwined. In a world that is this closely linked, friendship and partnership is the only way forward. A relationship built on deep trust, respect, support and cooperation.

We believe that France and Germany have the sort of relationship that exemplifies this.

After the Second World War, our two countries, two formerly sworn enemies, turned their backs on war and destruction, and instead chose reconciliation, friendship and Europe. They sealed their friendship in the Elysee Treaty, signed on 22 January 1963, of which we celebrate the 58th anniversary on Friday.

It is the kind of relationship that France and Germany want to build with Africa, in general, and with South Africa, in particular.

French President Emmanuel Macron, while visiting Burkina Faso in November 2017, described Africa as "a plural, multiple and strong continent where part of our shared future will play out".

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who visited South Africa early last year, underlined that "it is clear that Africans and Europeans are facing many shared challenges. This is why we have intensified our cooperation considerably in recent years – because we firmly believe that it is not only in the African interest, but also in ours".

International cooperation

The Covid-19 pandemic gave us another striking example of the vital need for strengthened international cooperation.

The European Union has made, in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, a great leap in integration. It has chosen a common joint approach rather than a unilateral, national course of action. That was essential to save European economies. France and Germany, as so many times before, played a crucial role in this respect.

Our two countries proposed a common approach to Europe that was endorsed by the European Union in July, providing the EU with a groundbreaking recovery plan of €750 billion to respond to the economic effects of the Covid-19 crisis.

Africa, too, under the South African chairmanship of the African Union, has made great strides to face the Covid-19 pandemic collectively: the African Union developed a strong and coordinated response to the pandemic and a solid vaccine strategy that secured, under the leadership of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, a provisional 270 million vaccine doses for African countries.

On the global stage, under the auspices of the World Health Organisation, France, Germany and South Africa have been staunch supporters of multilateralism. France, Germany and South Africa have been at the forefront of the Covax vaccine initiative, which works to ensure the fair distribution of vaccines, as they need to be accessible and affordable for all countries, regardless of their level of development. Our countries fought in 2020, so that vaccines are considered global public goods.

A new normal

As we move into 2021, Covid-19 continues to dominate much of our lives in Europe, southern Africa and elsewhere around the world, and this could be our reality for some time to come.

However, we can realistically hope that we will soon see progress with vaccinations. We will get our liberties back. We will get our lives back. We will work together to achieve this.

As we will return to a – new – normal, let us remember that we are stronger together, whether to fight pandemics or to defend human rights and democracy, stand up for freedom and peace, for prosperity and social justice, for diversity and tolerance.

As people, as societies, as nation-states, we can make Nelson Mandela's dream of a humane world come true.

-French Ambassador Aurélien Lechevallier and German Ambassador Martin Schäfer.

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