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Franco-German Reconciliation and Public Diplomacy

July 9, 2010

In my efforts to write about things other than US public diplomacy I  spotted an interesting 2007 piece by Ulrich Krotz on what he terms the ‘parapublic’ relations underpinning Franco-German reconciliation.  This looks at bilateral efforts to improve Franco-German relations after the Second World War and in particularly after the Elysee Treaty of 1963.  Krotz uses the term ‘parapublic’ to indicate a set of activities which are neither state to state or purely society to society.  What he has in mind are the state-funded initiatives to promote youth exchanges,  town-twinning arrangements and other types of links – including Franco-German prizes of one sort or another.  In his perspective parapublic indicates that they are between state and civil society, they wouldn’t happen without state support but don’t involve official representatives.

This leads to a few thoughts. I hadn’t appreciated the scale of these activities it is estimated that between 1963 and 2003 seven million people took part in youth exchanges.   Krotz makes the point that they are well institutionalized and accompanied by expectations about participation.

This kind of activitity tends to get left to students of European integration but really ought to get more attention from Public Diplomacy scholars.

Krotz uses a conceptual framework from constructivist IR theory.  Constructivist IR can get caught up in making the obvious unnecessarily complicated but it does have some quite interesting ways of talking about communications related concepts that moves beyond the simply models of information transfer and persuasion that often appears in the PD literature – I will come back to constructivist IR before too long

Krotz argues that the exchanges have certainly contributed to reconciliation and they have led to the institutionalization of the reconciliation and to a particular understanding of the Franco-German relationship.  However he also points to limits, there is no Franco-German public sphere, basic sources of difference and disagreement have not been removed and the expectations created by the rhetoric of reconciliation are frequently unmet becoming a continuing source of disappointment.   To translate it into a more network vocabulary the exchanges and their supporting institutions generate a particular narrative of the relationship but for most participants the relationship does not lead to lasting changes in the pattern of relationships ‘at home’ that would leader to greater convergence between the two countries.

I think that this is an interesting case to consider in terms of the possible impact of exchanges and citizen diplomacy, the scale of the Franco-German activities has been very large and backed by high levels political support.  While Krotz argues for an effect he also emphasizes the limits of what has been achieved.  How much is it reasonable to expect this type of activity to achieve?

Urich Krotz (2007), ‘Parapublic Underpinnings of International Relations: The Franco-German Construction of Europeanization of a Particular Kind’, European Journal of International Relations, 13, 3 (385-417)

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