SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
There have been many milestones along the road that Europe is on right now, searching for unity and a relief to its debt crisis. Today, we look at one milestone that's especially important to the 150 million people of France and Germany. To do that we're going to step back in time with NPR's Philip Reeves.
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: It's 1962. President John F. Kennedy's about to face a perilous standoff with Moscow over Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba. Americans are mourning the death of Marilyn Monroe. The first Wal-Mart has just opened. History's also being made in Europe. The president of France, General Charles de Gaulle, is touring Germany. Only 22 years have elapsed since Hitler invaded and occupied France. De Gaulle's on a mission of reconciliation.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
REEVES: He receives a very warm welcome.
PRESIDENT CHARLES DE GAULLE: (German spoken)
REEVES: Long live Bonn. Long live Germany. Long live the Franco-German friendship, de Gaulle tells a crowd in Bonn - the capital of what was then West Germany.
REEVES: De Gaulle's come here to turn a new page after two world wars. He took part in both. In the first, he was wounded and captured by the Germans. In the second, de Gaulle was the firebrand leader of the French resistance. His personal involvement in these terrible conflicts makes this visit to Germany in 1962 all the more poignant. It's clear Europe's two mighty neighbors, Germany and France, are entering a new era of peaceful cooperation. A few days after that speech that you've just heard, de Gaulle went to Ludwigsburg. That's a small city in southwest Germany. Again, he makes a speech - again in German. I congratulate you for being young, the 71-year old general tells a crowd in the courtyard of a baroque palace. I congratulate you also for being young Germans. Yet, de Gaulle does not pull any punches.
PHILIP COLLINS: The thing that de Gaulle does really well in this speech is that he does not shy away from the conflict.
REEVES: British speechwriter Philip Collins.
COLLINS: He goes on in the speech to say you are a great people to the Germans, which has also made some great mistakes in the course of its history. A poor speaker, a less courageous speaker, always shies away from the conflict, which is the point of the speech. De Gaulle doesn't. He takes it on full frontally, and that makes it a speech with a real argument, a real moment, from a real distinguished person. And those are the three components of a great speech.
REEVES: That speech got a rapturous reception in Germany. It became a milestone in the history of Franco-German relations. Today, France's President Francois Hollande meets his German counterpart, Chancellor Angela Merkel, in the same baroque palace. It's part of a series of celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the de Gaulle visit. These modern-day leaders will recall Europe's past at a time when the future remains uncertain. Fifty years on, the nations of Europe still haven't figured out the exact terms on which they'll work together as a political and fiscal entity. Vexed issues, like ceding sovereignty in the name of unity, remain completely unsettled. Their 17-nation single currency zone is in big trouble. Germany and France are the most important players in the collective search for a solution, yet they don't always see eye to eye. Until now, Merkel's advocated austerity as the best medicine for nations in trouble. When Hollande took office in May, he was seen as a critic of that approach, preferring a greater emphasis on growth. Since then, they both seem to have softened their positions. There've also been several important new developments...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (German spoken)
REEVES: ...including that verdict by Germany's constitutional court clearing the path for a new five hundred billion euro European rescue fund. Yet it's taking a painfully long time for Europe to end this crisis and finally to decide what the European Union will ultimately become. Hans Martens, chief executive of the European Policy Center, says Europe always takes time to sort out its big issues. He says Germany and France do eventually step up to the plate.
HANS MARTENS: They know their responsibility and I think they more or less live up to it but not without battles, of course, because that is the political game. But they always come together and find a solution in the end.
REEVES: De Gaulle would be pleased. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.