04/12/2013 10:31 am ET Updated Jun 12, 2013

Europe's Odd Couple Spoiling For a Fight -- Well, At Least a Debate

In a fitting commemoration of their relationship, Europe's "Odd Couple" is preparing for yet another argument. This time, though, the bombs, barbs and shots will be verbal.

Rivalries between what are now known as France and Germany -- two countries with a combined 33 percent of the population of today's European Union, 36 percent of its budget and 37 percent of its GDP -- go back to the days of the Caesars.

What was it that guided these two economic and political powerhouses through 50 years of peace and mutual cooperation, and what can we learn from their relationship that might inform our approach to other world hotspots?

This weekend, the French and German embassies will jointly bring many of America's most talented debaters from nearly 30 top schools to George Washington University for a one-of-a-kind debate championship to discuss the role of the 50-year-old Élysée Treaty in bringing about the Franco-German success story.

Often cited as the pillar upon which today's European Union is based, the Élysée Treaty was signed on January 22, 1963 by French President Charles de Gaulle and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, replacing centuries of mistrust with an extensive program of economic and diplomatic cooperation and cultural ties. At the tournament, students will weigh the role of the Treaty in the success that has followed, against other factors like U.S. economic and military support.

"I'm not sure which is more exciting," said George Washington Debate Director Paul Hayes, of George Washington's School of Media and Public Affairs, "the chance the winning debaters will have to travel to Paris, Berlin and Brussels to explore the tournament topic firsthand, or the distinguished pool of international relations scholars and professionals who have volunteered their time to judge at the tournament."

Besides the embassies, the event is being sponsored in partnership with The American University, the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at the Elliott School of International Affairs, the GWU Writing Program and the La Franc Lodge.

As a guest judge, I'll reserve comment on the topic itself. For now, let me just say that I am looking forward to the tournament, and I commend George Washington and the French and German governments for pursuing the discussion and promoting something of vital importance to U.S. civil society and democracy--vigorous and informed political debate on America's college campuses.

(For more information about the tournament, visit The final round will be open to the public and will begin at 4:00 on April 14 at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University.)