Germany and France unite to fight ‘fake news’

As France and Germany signed a new friendship treaty Tuesday, they sought to debunk what they called fake news and conspiracy claims levelled by far-right nationalist groups.

Germany and France unite to fight 'fake news'
Macron and Merkel signing the "friendship treaty" Tuesday in Aachen. Photo: DPA

French President Emmanuel Macron in his speech charged that “those who… spread lies are hurting the same people they are pretending to defend by seeking to repeat our history”.

In a rare move, the Elysee Palace also issued a statement with four capital-letter “NONs” to shoot down the most inflammatory claims that made the rounds on social media.

Border region

“NO, Alsace and Lorraine will not be placed under the tutelage of Germany,” said the Elysee statement.

“NO, Alsatians will not have to learn and speak German.”

Far-right MEP Bernard Monot, among others, had charged that the eastern French regions, which have changed hands several times between French and German rule, were being “handed over to a foreign power”.

And the leader of France's National Rally, Marine Le Pen, accused Macron of “an act that borders on treason” by signing the follow-up pact to the 1963 Elysee Treaty.

The French presidency said that “by trying to rekindle the ashes of a rivalry between France and Germany, those who spread the false news betray all the work of reconciliation that allows us to live in peace”.

UN Security Council 

Le Pen has also predicted that Paris will eventually give up its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, and even share control over its nuclear arsenal.

“NO, France will not share its seat in the UN Security Council with Germany…nor with anyone else,” said Macron's office.

SEE ALSO: Timeline: Decades of Franco-German friendship

In the text of the 16-page accord, Paris backs Berlin's long-running and long-shot campaign for a permanent Security Council seat — a move which also buries proposals for Paris to give up its seat in favour of a combined EU representation.

Both former enemy nations also pledge to stand shoulder to shoulder in case of a military attack against either of them, reaffirming a commitment already written into EU and NATO treaties, and to create a new joint Defence and Security Council.

Picking up the bill

Among German populists, a long-running fear is that taxpayers in the EU's top economy will have to foot the bill for the expensive visions of neighbouring members of the bloc.

A co-chief of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, Alexander Gauland, charged that Paris and Berlin were now seeking to create a “super EU” within the European Union.

“We as populists insist that one first takes care of one's own country,” said Gauland, whose opposition group started life five years ago as a eurosceptic fringe party.

“We don't want Macron to renovate his country with German money.”

Neither of the European leaders addressed the point directly, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that “populism and nationalism are on the rise”, multilateralism and international cooperation are under attack, and  “more decisive, clearer and future-oriented answers are needed”.

Member comments

  1. Good. At least Germany and France are actually trying to stem the tide of nationalist brainwashing in mainstream news. Unlike the UK, who are more or less advocating it, the British tabloids are a disgrace!

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Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

READ ALSO: ‘Eternal’ chancellor: Germany’s Merkel to hand over power
READ ALSO: The Merkel-Raute: How a hand gesture became a brand

‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.