Taking inspiration from "engine" and "couple"

Differences are not necessarily obstacles to a relationship, and in many cases they may turn out to be of value. This was the general message at the panel discussion on res publica (Latin for "public affairs") with Winfried Kretschmann, state premier of the German state of Baden-Württemberg, and France’s former prime minister Manuel Valls at the University of Stuttgart.

Alexandra Wolters | July 2017
Photo: Uli Regenscheit

Winfried Kretschmann, state premier of the German state of Baden-Württemberg, at the german-french panel discussion on res publica

"The relationship between Germany and France is one of opposites attract." Premier Kretschmann received a warm round of applause for his remarks from the audience in the well-filled auditorium at the University of Stuttgart. France’s former prime minister Valls also applauded, paying respect to his dialog partner’s sense of pathos - a trait he sometimes missed in German politics, as Mr. Kretschmann had stated earlier. Mr. Valls, on the other hand, wished for some more of Germany’s stability and pragmatism in French politics.

Sharing great rapport, the two top politicians appeared relaxed and affable. But the event sponsored by the Robert Bosch Stiftung as part of the DVA-Stiftung’s scientific dialog was not only about listing and praising the benefits of the two political systems and of republicanism in general. Pressing questions on the agenda included: How can we strengthen community and democracy in Europe? How can France and Germany partner up to address the challenges the EU is facing?

Photo: Uli Regenscheit

France’s former prime minister Manuel Valls

"Such an exchange strengthens the European sense of unity"

"At present, many people in Europe are questioning our democracy and community. We will have to try and find answers and create a sense of belonging," Mr. Valls explained, underscoring the revived impetus and importance of the Franco-German friendship as an example of a good relationship between different systems. Ultimately, it all came down to the shared values, the two politicians agreed.

Differences and similarities were also apparent among the members of the audience: The close to 300 participants included high-school and college students as well as older attendees. While some listened to the provided translation via headset, others were able to follow the bilingual debate unaided. But everyone showed great interest in the discussed topics. "Such an exchange strengthens the European sense of unity," a student commented, adding that especially in the current situation, the Franco-German friendship was more important than ever.

Photo: Universität Stuttgart/Uli Regenscheit

An audience of close to 300 participants listened to the panel discussion at the University of Stuttgart

Call for a "civilized argument"

"Let’s recognize this moment as a huge opportunity to live up to our responsibility and work on Project Europe together," Mr. Valls demanded, listing the economy, reforms, sustainability, and climate change as the key topics on which Germany and France would have to focus the attention of all of Europe. "We always use the word ‘couple’ when we refer to the Franco-German relationship, while Germans call our relationship the ‘engine’ of Europe. Maybe we will manage to combine these - the passion and the driving force."

Premier Kretschmann agreed that greater mutual inspiration and enthusiasm were needed. That made dialog-based events such as theirs, as well as the many small encounters and projects between students, twin towns, and researchers, so important. "Res publica, which concerns us all, is one of the oldest and most important political concepts in Europe." But where does solidarity arise from these days? What is the fabric that holds a society together? "My theory on this one is pretty simple," Mr. Kretschmann concluded the debate, "a civilized argument and exchange keeps a society together, an uncivilized one drives it apart."