This article offers a long-term perspective on the relations between France and Germany a century after the First World War. It probes three grand periods in Franco-German affairs: ‘hereditary enmity’ (1871–1945), ‘reconciliation’ (1945–63) and the ‘special relationship’ since 1963.
Through an investigation of the basic meaning and patterns of interstate interaction, particularly the resilient and adaptable embedded bilateralism of recent decades, the article seeks not only to delineate the key elements of the past, but also to accentuate the stakes of the present, as well as to cast an eye towards the future. The significance of the current crises in European affairs, this article maintains, lies not in the first place in their momentary tumult or troubles, but rather in their potential to unravel constitutive aspects of Franco-German relations and European politics of the past half century.
Today, next to a rejuvenated Franco-German bilateralism embedded in a wider Europe, two other trajectories appear as ‘possible futures’: German hegemony in a partially integrated Europe; and a Europe of chronic muddling through, presumably along with a degeneration of the European project.