Merkel’s EU-policies: Paris can wait

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (C) arrive for a joint press conference following their meeting in the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, 15 September 2017. [EPA-EFE/FELIPE TRUEBA]

North against south, east against west: one of the most pressing issues on the new German government’s agenda after the upcoming elections will be the trenches that divide the EU – and how to get rid of them. EURACTIV’s partner Der Tagesspiegel reports.

While there is a divide between the eurozone’s rich north and its poorer southern countries, several eastern states are also refusing to follow Brussels’ refugee policies.

French President Emmanuel Macron has ambitious plans for the eurozone and its 19 members, including an EU finance minister, as well as a billion-euro budget for the eurozone that would benefit the southern states.

On a visit to Berlin last Friday (15 September), Macron’s conservative Prime Minister Edouard Philippe underlined that Paris wants to make joint decisions at EU-level with Berlin in order to deepen the eurozone:  “We have about 12 to 18 months to make the right decisions,” he urged.

Philippe did not disclose any further plans though, probably to avoid preempting Macron. According to media reports, the president is due to present details of his vision for a “reinvention” of the EU two days after the German elections on 24 September. Chancellor Angela Merkel already signalled that she is generally open to Macron’s renovation drive.

On Friday, after a lunch with Philippe, she confirmed that Germany “will cooperate very closely with France – no matter what the future German government will look like”. However, she emphasised that keywords like the eurozone budget must be “fleshed out”.

Merkel backs Macron's call for multi-speed EU, 'small' eurozone budget

French President Emmanuel Macron called for a multi-speed Europe on Tuesday (29 August), arguing that a core of “avant-garde” countries should lead the way in deepening EU integration.

Instead of dwelling on discussions about potential new financial means for the eurozone and the EU, Merkel drew attention to what she sees as the most important future challenges for the EU: digitisation, industrialisation, trade relations with third countries, strengthening of European competitiveness.

There are several reasons why Merkel chooses to remain tight-lipped about Macron‘s reform agenda. First of all, additional billion-euro payments to the European partners would go down badly with her conservative party as well as their voters.

Secondly, Merkel – whose victory in the elections seems almost certain – does not yet know who her coalition partner(s) will be.

With the current partner, the Social Democrats (SPD), the decision would be rather easy: Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel as well as the SPD’s top candidate for the chancellorship and former European Parliament President Martin Schulz both openly applauded Macron’s plans. The Green Party is also in favour of a more generous EU approach by Berlin.

Schulz: 'I'm glad' Macron proposed eurozone reforms

Two weeks from the legislative elections, Social Democrat (SPD) candidate Martin Schulz wants to close the gap on Chancellor Angela Merkel, focusing on Europe and the digital sector, which have been largely absent from the campaign so far. He spoke with EURACTIV’s partner Ouest-France.

The opposite is true for the liberal FDP and their chairman Christian Lindner, though. In the tabloid Bildhe said on Friday: “The FDP will not accept a money-pipeline from Germany to the other euro-countries.”

However, it remains to be seen whether Lindner keeps this tough stance if the FDP really does become a coalition partner – or if it is just election campaign bluster.

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