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02.2 Program for the Study of Germany and Europe

Social Content of the International Sphere: Symbols and Meaning in Franco-German Relations

2002 – Ulrich Krotz


“The Franco-German friendship is rich in memories and gestures that are at once important and symbolic, and that characterize the exceptional nature of the relationship between our two countries,” reflects former French economics minister and European Commission President Jacques Delors. Such symbolic acts and joint memories are not primarily about cooperation in specific instances. Rather, more generally, they denote what it means to act together. They lend significance to a relationship; they signify what is “at stake,” or what it is “all about.” They are about a deeper and more general social purpose underlying specific instances of cooperation. They are about the value and intrinsic importance that social relations incorporate. Symbols contribute to the institutionalization of social meaning and social purpose in dealing with one another. In this paper I clarify the concept of “predominantly symbolic acts and practices among states,” systematically explore such acts for the bilateral Franco-German relationship between the late 1950s and the mid-1990s, and scrutinize the specific meaning and effects that these practices have helped to generate and perpetuate.