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France and Germany seek closer bond with treaty ahead of Brexit

France and Germany will sign a new friendship treaty on Tuesday, seeking to boost an alliance at the heart of the EU as Britain bows out and with nationalism rising around the continent.

France and Germany seek closer bond with treaty ahead of Brexit
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron wave from the balcony of the town hall in Aachen during a visit in May 2018. Photo: DPA

President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel will sign the deal, which pledges deeper economic and defence ties as well as commitment to the EU, in the German city of Aachen in North Rhine-Westphalia.

The French presidency said it was an “important moment” for showing the relationship was “a bedrock which can relaunch itself … in the service of reinforcing the European project”.

Aachen, which sits on the Dutch and Belgian borders, is rich in European symbolism as the seat of power of Charlemagne, the 1st-century emperor who ruled over swathes of western Europe.

“We're seeing an existential crisis in terms of European integration, with Brexit and the expected strengthening of nationalists at the next European elections,” said Claire Demesmay, a political scientist at German research
institute DGAP.

“In this context, confirming this belief in Franco-German cooperation has symbolic value,” she told German public radio.

SEE ALSO: Merkel and Macron to sign new Franco-German treaty

Merkel and Macron will sign the deal on the anniversary of a similar Franco-German cooperation treaty in 1963 by France's Charles de Gaulle and the German chancellor of the time, Konrad Adenauer.

The new treaty aims to kickstart the relationship known as the “Franco-German motor”, traditionally seen as the key alliance in Europe between two economic and political heavyweights.

Macron came into power in May 2017 seeking Merkel's backing for major reforms of the EU in a bid to restore faith in its institutions and quell rising populism.

But his ideas met with only lukewarm support from Merkel and other EU leaders, while Paris and Berlin have differed on other issues including how to tax internet giants.

In December, EU leaders signed off on a watered-down version of Macron's proposals, including a highly tentative plan to explore a eurozone budget.

Far-right complaints

The treaty commits France and Germany to closer military ties, including possible joint deployments — in the event of a terror attack, for example.

The two countries could also cooperate more closely on procurement, such as the purchase or development of new tanks or fighter jets.

And it includes a “mutual defence clause” in the event of one of them being attacked, although they are already committed to this as members of NATO.

The closer military ties come after Macron sparked a row with President Donald Trump late last year by urging Europe to reduce its military dependence on the US, even calling for a “real European army”.

The treaty also paves the way for a joint parliament made up of 50 members of the French national assembly and the same number from the Bundestag, and language-learning initiatives in both countries.

But at home, Macron's critics on both the far-left and far-right have  seized on the treaty as an erosion of French sovereignty.

A wave of false rumours have spread online that Macron is going to Germany to sign away parts of French territory to Merkel.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen accused Macron of seeking to “dismantle the power of our country”.

Weakened leaders

Both Macron and Merkel have spoken movingly of the importance of close ties between two countries which share the brutal history of two world wars.

But some other European leaders have bristled at the idea of an all-dominating “Franco-German motor”.

Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has said ahead of European parliament elections in May that he wants to challenge Merkel and Macron's staunchly pro-European message with a eurosceptic “Italian-Polish axis”.

Both the French and German leaders have seen easier times, with Germany already looking to a post-Merkel future after she announced she would step down as chancellor in 2021.

Macron's grand plans to save Europe have meanwhile had to go on the backburner as he grapples with a wave of anti-government “yellow vest” protests.

Both leaders will speak at the signing ceremony at Aachen's historic city hall before taking part in a “citizen debate” with French and German students.

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SEX

France taken to European Court over divorce ruling that woman had ‘marital duty’ to have sex with husband

A case has been brought against France at the European Court of Human Rights by a woman who lost a divorce case after judges ruled against her because she refused to have sex with her husband.

France taken to European Court over divorce ruling that woman had 'marital duty' to have sex with husband
Photo: Frederick Florin/AFP

The woman, who has not been named, has brought the case with the backing of two French feminist groups, arguing that the French court ruling contravened human rights legislation by “interference in private life” and “violation of physical integrity”.

It comes after a ruling in the Appeals Court in Versailles which pronounced a fault divorce in 2019 because of her refusal to have sex with her husband.

READ ALSO The divorce laws in France that foreigners need to be aware of

The court ruled that the facts of the case “established by the admission of the wife, constitute a serious and renewed violation of the duties and obligations of marriage making intolerable the maintenance of a shared life”.

Feminist groups Fondation des femmes (Women’s Foundation) and Collectif féministe contre le viol (Feminist Collective against Rape) have backed her appeal, deploring the fact that French justice “continues to impose the marital duty” and “thus denying the right of women to consent or not to sexual relations”.

“Marriage is not and should not be a sexual servitude,” the joint statement says, pointing out that in 47 percent of the 94,000 recorded rapes and attempted rapes per year, the aggressor is the spouse or ex-spouse of the victim.

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