Why Germany should be there: Dominique Mosi and Karl Kaiser urge a D-Day invitation for the sake of European unity

Click to follow
IT IS not only Germany that is going to be absent on the 50th celebration of the D-Day Normandy landings, but also Europe. Some have argued that this is not the appropriate moment to bring Germany into the celebrations - that there are more fitting dates for commemorative 'ecumenism', such as 8 May 1995, the 50th anniversary of VE Day.

We disagree. The 'invasion' of 6 June 1944, as the British called it at the time, remains the most powerful symbol of the triumph of democracy against Hitler, precisely because it was a joint mobilisation of Western democratic nations. It is a serious error to exclude Germany - which has become a model of democracy over the past 50 years and a key motor of European unity - from such a joyful celebration, taking place on the eve of important European parliamentary elections.

The exclusion reveals the extent to which the European ideal is fading away in the minds of political elites. It is a sad reflection on the moral state of a European Union whose recent enlargement has been barely noticed, let alone celebrated, in an atmosphere dominated by the resurgence of nationalist politics.

After the Second World War, Western Europe was rebuilt by statesmen who understood that if they allowed themselves to ignore or to be paralysed by history, they could end up repeating it. Thus, they oriented their policies towards two goals, which produced the historical miracle of a peaceful West European community.

The first was the need to establish strong democracies as the prerequisite to peace; the second was not to repeat the mistake made at Versailles in 1919 of isolating and humiliating Germany. Instead it was decided - and this at a time when most of Germany's citizens could still have been described as at least passive Nazis - that the former enemy was to be integrated into an ever- closer community of European states, sharing responsibilities and burdens commensurate with its resources.

The 50th anniversary of the landing of the Allied forces on the Normandy beaches might therefore have been the occasion to celebrate the victory of democracy in Europe, since all countries, including Germany, were liberated from Nazism. It is, of course, natural that war veterans should be remembered, because their sacrifice was admirable. But beyond the commemoration of the past, the D-Day celebrations should contain a wider, positive and forward-looking message; one that cannot be conveyed if Germany is excluded.

The fact is that the Germans who were responsible for the tragedy are almost all dead, and even those who were children at the liberation are now 60 years old. Germans of all ages want to celebrate the victory of their democracy, which they owe to the liberation and years of co-operation with the allies who freed them.

By celebrating D-Day only among those nations who took part in the 1944 Normandy landings, the Allies are also sending out a signal which is fundamentally at odds with the events that will take place a few days later, when the populations of the European Union elect the European Parliament. Do we really want to convey the impression that the ideas and forces behind the arduous process of creating that Union were of only minor significance, or, worse, not genuine?

Right now Europe is in the midst of its most severe identity crisis since the end of the Second World War. Can we afford to neglect the challenge of the future for the sake of commemorating the past? This lack of sensitivity might endanger the delicate balance of emotions on which the Franco-German equilibrium rests. It also risks encouraging the rise of the extreme right in Germany by nurturing nationalist feelings, partly based on exclusion.

A great deal of political effort has gone recently into creating Eurocorps, a new European security identity based on Franco-German military co- operation, which provides a foundation for a future common European military force. In this context, the D-Day celebration begins to look,in effect, like an exercise in damage maximisation.

Franco-German reconciliation is all well and good, but it is not to be taken for granted. The reality is that it has served mainly as a means to a higher goal: that of building a Europe united by democracy. The celebration of Franco-German friendship, instigated by France, which will take place in Heidelberg on 8 June, will not make up for the absence of Germany on the landing beaches on 6 June. Television cameras from all over the world will be present on the Normandy beaches that day. Events in Heidelberg, whatever their merits, will undoubtedly look like a hasty compensation, a consolation prize - which indeed they are.

It is not too late to change policy. We make two recommendations. First: why not bring together the grandchildren of those who fought on the beaches 50 years ago? A festive gathering of young Europeans representing the continent's future, including, of course, young Germans, would have a highly symbolic significance seen side by side with the war veterans.

Second, the French government, as the host, should have the courage to propose to other governments that the European Corps participate in the D-Day celebrations, in recognition of the fact that the descendants of those who fought each other on the beaches are now partners.

These two symbolic initiatives would dramatically alter the content of the D-Day celebrations, turning them into a stepping stone for the future, and signalling to a Europe now being ravaged by deadly conflict in its Eastern part, that men can learn from history.

Dominique Mosi is Deputy Director of the Institut Francais des Relations Internationales; Karl Kaiser is Director of the Research Institute of the German Society for Foreign Affairs.