IN A SUMMER chock full of high-powered summit conferences, the five-day state visit of President Valery Giscard d'Estaing to West Germany, beginning July 7, was an easy one, especially for Americans, to overlook. President Giscard's trip to Bonn and other selected sites — the first official visit to Germany by a French president since Charles de Gaulle's historic fence-mending journey in 1962 — was loaded with significance.
Call for "Independent Role" for Europe
Throughout his trip, President Giscard d'Estaing urged Western Europe to take a more independent role in world affairs, implying that the region should loosen its dependence on the United States in political and military matters. On the first night, at a banquet given in his honor in Bonn, the French leader said that France and West Germany must act together to prevent Europe from falling into political oblivion and restore its power and influence in world affairs. "If we succeed we will have rendered a great service to peace and the balance in the world, which, as we see every day, needs an independent and strong Europe," he said. Mr. Giscard drew attention to the significance, 18 years earlier, of President de Gaulle's tour of reconciliation intended to heal the breach between Europe's most bitter foes of the past. He succeeded: the following year, West Germany and France signed their "Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation." Mr. Giscard spoke of a shared destiny between the trans-Rhine powers: "Never have our countries been so bound together. Never have we been so close." West Germany and France have grown together, he said, and "now no longer aim cannons across the rivers at one another, but offer instead their hands in friendship," adding that France and West Germany were "obliged to use our united strength to preserve Europe from a shadowy existence and return it to its proper role of might and importance in the world." Mr. Giscard concluded by raising his glass to "Franco-German friendship — may it serve not only peace but from now on also the influence of Europe in the world."
In his reply to the speeches by President Giscard and other French officials, Chancellor Helmut Schmidt pointedly refrained. from supporting an obvious French initiative for putting Western Europe on equal political footing with the United States and the Soviet Union. West Germany is a nonnuclear power, dependent more so than France on the American nuclear umbrella, and therefore cannot afford to so easily express its desires for independence as can France. Nevertheless, at a press conference concluding the visit, Mr. Schmidt supported closer Franco-German cooperation, saying he welcomed France's decision to modernize its independent nuclear forces. The move, he said, was in harmony with last December's NATO decision to deploy nearly 600 cruise missiles and Pershing II missiles in an effort to counter what military analysts say is a massive Soviet buildup of intermediate — range missiles able to strike at any part of Western Europe. While Mr. Schmidt generally listened cautiously, President Giscard's constant theme of European unity and renewed world influence won enthusiastic support from Mr. Schmidt's chancellor — challenger, Franz Josef Strauss. Mr. Giscard and Mr. Strauss met in historic Wiirzburg, a few hours away from Munich. Mr. Strauss agreed with President Giscard that France and West Germany "shared a common destiny." This and the natural alliance between the two neighbors, he said, should cause no other country in Europe concern. Mr. Giscard, incidentally, was the first French head of state to visit Wiirzburg since the Emperor Napoleon. While there, he recalled that Charlemagne had also preceded him and "looked upon its walls." On the second day of the state visit, perhaps the most symbolic gesture of harmony between the two powers was made. The two heads of government inspected German and French troops at a joint parade in Baden-Baden. Baden-Baden is the site where about 50,000 French troops are stationed on West German soil. Both statesmen pointed to Franco-German military cooperation as a demonstration of the friendship between the two countries, which the president's visit was intended to underline. For those with a sense of history, the parade of the two armies, marching shoulder to shoulder, was a truly historic event. The Franco-German alliance — the absolutely essential ingredient to any concept of European unity revealed in, biblical prophecy — has been building slowly for some time. But the lack of contemporary American leadership in the Western alliance is now forcing the two competitors together, for mutual protection, more than ever before.