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June 27, 2017

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Applauding a flippantly overlooked peace in the heart of Western Europe

UNITED NATIONS -- The world is confronted by a maze of crises ranging from North Africa to the Middle East and South Asia.

Places from Afghanistan, to Syria, Somalia and Mali make the grim headlines.

So it's not surprising that an extraordinary achievement of peace and reconciliation in Western Europe is flippantly overlooked as a kind of political given.

Fifty years ago, France and Germany signed the Elysee Treaty, a pact formalizing a long overdue reconciliation between two bitter continental rivals which had fought three wars in less than a century.

It solidified peace in the heart of Europe and formed a key building block of stability and prosperity in the still infant Common Market which would later mature into today's European Union.

Two statesmen, French President Charles de Gaulle and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer saw peace as the only path forward for the two neighbors. The path to this amazing friendship progressed throughout the 1950s, with closer economic integration and Germany's NATO membership, and saw its culmination in July 1962 with Adenauer's visit to Reims in France to lay the philosophical cornerstone for the treaty at the Notre Dame Cathedral which had witnessed the coronations of French kings but had also seen the carnage of World War I.

A commemorative marker outside the majestic 12th century cathedral quotes de Gaulle telling Archbishop Marty of Reims: "His Excellency Chancellor Adenauer and I have just in your Cathedral sealed the reconciliation of France and Germany."

Thus just 18 years after the end of World War II, and in the living memory of heinous crimes committed by the Nazis during the occupation, the formal treaty was signed in Paris in January 1963.

These were anxious times; months earlier France had formally ended its bloody conflict in Algeria and had seen a nervous countdown to Algerian independence on July 3.

Indeed General de Gaulle, still politically wounded by the aftermath of the Algerian debacle, decided to refocus on the European balance of power with his embrace of Chancellor Adenauer.

What de Gaulle referred to in Latin as reconciliation between Gallia and Germania, reflected a wider historical view.

Over the past half century the Elysee Treaty has become a pillar in Franco/German relations, and moreover, a building block of the wider European Union. Agreements between Paris and Berlin deal with everything from defense and diplomacy to culture and youth programs.

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