Ger­man, French lead­ers in pub­lic show of unity

Gulf Times - - EUROPE -

One hun­dred years af­ter the guns of World War I fell silent, the lead­ers of France and Ger­many held hands and rested their heads against one an­other in a poignant cer­e­mony to mark the sign­ing of the Ar­mistice peace agree­ment.

Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron and Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel in­spected troops from a joint Franco-Ger­man Bri­gade be­fore un­veil­ing a plaque pay­ing trib­ute to the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and re­newed friend­ship be­tween the foes of two world wars.

More than 3mn French and Ger­man troops were among an es­ti­mated 10mn sol­diers who died in the Great War of 19141918.

Much of the heav­i­est fight­ing was in trenches in north­ern France and Bel­gium.

A Ger­man del­e­ga­tion signed the Ar­mistice be­fore sun­rise on No­vem­ber 11, 1918, in a pri­vate train be­long­ing to the com­man­der of French forces, Fer­di­nand Foch, parked on rail track run­ning through the Com­piegne For­est.

Hours later, at 11am, the war ended.

“Europe has been at peace for 73 years. It is at peace be­cause we want it to be, be­cause Ger­many and France want peace,” Macron told sev­eral young­sters, with Merkel at his side, re­fer­ring to the peace since the end of World War II in 1945.

“And so the mes­sage, if we want to live up to the sac­ri­fice of those sol­diers who said ‘Never again!’, is to never yield to our weak­est in­stincts, nor to ef­forts to di­vide us.”

In a pow­er­ful show of unity, Macron and Merkel sat in­side the re­con­structed teak-lined rail wagon in which the peace char­ter was signed and looked through a book of remembrance.

Af­ter each signed the book, they held hands a sec­ond time.

The last time French and Ger­man del­e­ga­tions had sat in the same place was when Nazi Ger­many’s Adolf Hitler forced the sur­ren­der of French au­thor­i­ties af­ter in­vad­ing in 1940.

Since World War II, France and Ger­many have driven tighter Eu­ro­pean co-op­er­a­tion and the Eu­ro­pean Union has be­come the world’s largest trad­ing bloc.

Macron, 40, an ar­dent de­fender of a closer Europe, has turned to Merkel to help him forge deeper eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion within the EU’s sin­gle cur­rency bloc, as well as more col­lab­o­ra­tion on mat­ters such as de­fence and im­mi­gra­tion.

For years, Merkel, 64, had waited for a French leader with Macron’s zest for Europe.

How­ever, the fragility of her gov­ern­ing coali­tion and her own weak­ened lead­er­ship, as well as mis­giv­ings over as­pects of Macron’s vi­sion for re­newal, have meant she has not moved as quickly as Macron would have liked.

This past week, the French leader has toured sites that once lay along the western front, from the bat­tle­fields of Ver­dun in the east to the im­pos­ing Thiep­val me­mo­rial over­look­ing the Somme val­ley.

There, he and Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May to­gether laid a wreath on Fri­day.

Along the way, he has warned of the ris­ing threat to Europe posed by a resur­gence in na­tion­al­ism.

“Na­tion­al­ism is ris­ing across Europe, the na­tion­al­ism that de­mands the clos­ing of fron­tiers, which preaches re­jec­tion of the other,” he said in a ra­dio in­ter­view on Tues­day. “It is play­ing on fears, ev­ery­where. Europe is in­creas­ingly frac­tured.”

A Ger­man bu­gler stands ready near a big screen show­ing Merkel and Macron tak­ing part in a French-Ger­man cer­e­mony in the clear­ing of Rethon­des (the Glade of the Ar­mistice) in Com­piegne, north­ern France, as part of com­mem­o­ra­tions mark­ing the 100th an­niver­sary of the No­vem­ber 11, 1918 ar­mistice that ended World War I.

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