How Old Foes Have Reconciled

Michel Herland
Economist, honorary professor at the Universities of Aix-en-Provence and at the University of the Antilles and Guiana,
member of the UEF-South France (PACA) and member of the editorial board of Fédéchoses


Raymond Krakovitch
La Réconciliation franco-allemande, 1945-1950
La Presse fédéraliste, Lyon, 2022

In a phase where the Franco-German tandem is experiencing some grumbling, this little book, which tells the story of the birth of the special relationship between two former enemies, is a timely contribution to the debate. This relationship was far from being self-evident at the end of the Second World War for all French politicians (since this is the angle of attack chosen by the author). 

After preambles that briefly recall the state of affairs during and immediately after the war, the book is organised in three chapters reviewing the main political forces of the time, i.e. de Gaulle and his troops (15 pages), the Mouvement Républicain Populaire (MRP) (15 pages) and finally the 'socialists' (5 pages). The brevity of the last chapter is explained by its title: "European socialists without power"; it considers both the attitude of the communists, who did not move an inch in their rejection of any reconciliation, and the hesitant attitude of the socialists, since, while they were immediately hostile to any dismemberment of Germany, they were divided with regard to the future European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). 

The MRP, on the other hand, will change course completely. Initially in favour of the "ablation" of Germany, which would mainly consist in depriving it of its economic wealth (whatever the precise ways will be) in the form of war reparations and in order to prevent it from preparing for a new war, the appointment of Robert Schuman to the Quai d'Orsay in the summer of 1948 would result, willingly or not, because of the pressure from the United States, in its recognition of the Federal Republic encompassing the three zones occupied by the Western Allies. And on 9 May of the following year (a date that will become the foundation of the European Union) Schuman gave the speech announcing the ECSC project, conceived by Jean Monnet. 

By far the most interesting chapter is the one devoted to de Gaulle, since he was able to defend opposite and often paradoxical positions for a man who is still known as the defender of national sovereignty. In October 1945, when he was in power, he stated: "France's security requires that certain western regions of the Reich be definitively withdrawn from German sovereignty". In February 1947, now in the opposition, he repeated that France had to stand firm on "the economic separation of the Ruhr and the repossession of the Rhine's left bank". In October 1948, he predicted the birth of a "West German federation that will join the European Union". The following month, he defended the idea of a "European army which would essentially be a Franco-German army"! If we remember that the Gaullists, allied with the Communists, scuppered the European Defence Community (EDC) project, we can realize the extent of the turnaround. At the beginning of 1949, he proclaimed that “Europe must be built on the basis of an agreement between the French and the Germans” and, at the end of that year, he proposed a referendum in all interested countries to decide on the creation of a confederation. In March, he even spoke of a federation... Raymond Krakovitch also unearthed in the archives of the Charles de Gaulle Institute a motion presented during a session of the Rassemblement du Peuple Français (RPF, the Gaullist party) in September, also in 1949, foreseeing, in the face of the growing danger from the USSR, that the European states should "pool their defence, their economic organisation, their currency...". Obviously, de Gaulle only envisaged a "French" Europe: "Europe will not be made if France does not take the lead, I mean a France standing upright and without borders". It should be pointed out here that such a conception was incompatible with the reality of a confederation, a fortiori of a federation, and the vote on the EDC will show what the Gaullist position really was. 

The first chapter provides interesting information on the state of French public opinion at the end of the war. In October 1944, 76% of those polled were in favour of the dismemberment of Germany and, two months later, 91% answered yes to the question "Should German industry be placed under Allied control after the war?”.

In short, this clearly written little book is a useful and timely contribution to the political history of France in the post-war years.


Translated by Gabriele Casano

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