The future of the EU will be one of the main issues for coalition talks in Berlin, admitted Manfred Weber, the leader the centre-right European Peoples’ Party (EPP) group and member of the Christian Social Union (CSU) – the Bavarian sister party to the Christian-Democrats (CDU).
“From the experience we gained already in the Jamaica talks, we realised that the general atmosphere in the democratic parties is pro-EU. I would say that the proposals of Jean-Claude Juncker are a good basis for the development, for the next step, especially in the eurozone or other fields like the common defence union,” he told EURACTIV.com in Strasbourg.
On the future of the EU, the conservative politician sees more common ground than diversity and splits among the three German parties.
“We need to make pragmatic steps. People are expecting progress on content and that is what we should do,” Weber said, adding that the proposals should be concrete.
“That is a little bit missing when I look at the socialists’ statements. They are visionary but we need concrete answers,” the German politician emphasised.
Discussions on maintaining the CDU-SPD coalition, which has governed Germany since 2013, are starting this week and the future of the EU will likely take centre stage.
Last week, Social-Democrat leader Martin Schulz spoke in favour of the “United States of Europe”, triggering a strong reaction from the other two conservative parties, Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats and the CSU.
SPD and Macron
But for the SPD, there are substantial differences. Knut Fleckenstein, vice-president of the Socialists and Democrats group (S&D), reiterated that the only way to move forward should be the “United States of Europe”.
He said that CDU-CSU now appeared to prefer the intergovernmental way to rule Europe, focusing on consensus among EU capitals to reach key decisions.
“This is neither a really democratic way in my view nor helpful to solve the problems we have,” he told EURACTIV.com.
Fleckenstein added that the SPD’s main point is to take serious steps in the direction of strengthening the EU, developing it, at least big parts, “in accordance with President Macron”.
French President Emmanuel Macron has presented ideas for the future of the EU, asking among other things for a separate budget for the Eurozone, although he appears to have toned down recently to avoid getting bogged down in technical debates over eurozone reforms.
Asked whether Macron was getting closer to the “progressive” ideas for the future of Europe, he replied, “I think so. In principle, for sure not in all points of his social agenda, if there is one; but I can see that in the main points such as the economic policy”.
Fleckenstein also warned that the divisions over a vision for the EU could be one of the obstacles in the way of a grand coalition.
“The European way can be interpreted in different ways and we have to choose now. Whether we want the Union way with a strengthened Parliament, with institutions like the Eurogroup being more transparent or whether we should stick to an intergovernmental method and backrooms.”
A joint answer to Macron and Juncker
Merkel’s close ally MEP Elmar Brok (EPP), who is also the President of the Union of European Federalists, said he opposed Schulz’s idea because it was combined with a threat and this cannot be accepted.
“Everyone who does not want to join this idea has to go out of the EU. This is not a right start of the negotiations,” he noted and added that in not too distant future a treaty change will be needed to move Europe forward.
Asked whether the different visions for Europe could pose a threat to the formulation of a new government in Germany he replied, “I don’t think so. We need to focus on practical things and find proper answers to Macron and Juncker’s proposals. All the three parties are pro-EU parties and this should be possible as it was in the past.”
He also noted there was little of substance in Schulz’s speech.
“I don’t know what his position is and I don’t think that the SPD wants to have an EU budget with 3% or 4% of GDP. Then, they have to explain how this would be possible. Even Macron himself would not be able to do so.”
Die Linke backs a ‘cooperation model’
On the other side of the German political spectrum, the leftists are pushing for new innovative ways of cooperation that could change Germany and Europe.
They are ideologically closer to SPD and stand ready to offer their support if needed, out of the framework of another grand coalition.
Gabriele Zimmer, the president of Confederal Group of the European United Left-Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) in the Parliament, told EURACTIV that the grand coalition was not the only option and that it can no longer move things forward for Germany and Europe.
“An interesting proposal they discussed yesterday (11 December) was a cooperation model in the coalition. That means to not decide on all the specific detailed issues during the legislation but there must be space for cooperation with other parties and to have different majorities in the parliament.”
Asked whether Die Linke is ready to support the Social Democrats in such a governance model, she replied that this model of cooperation among her party, SPD, and part of the Greens could develop and help restore trust among them.
“They can rely on us on social issues like education and taxation of the rich.”
Looking at the next election, she noted that left-oriented progressive powers should already start cooperating. “It is not possible to wait until the next election.”
For Zimmer, Germany needs to shift to a more social model and close the gap between rich and poor. “We need to have another approach to the EU,” she said.
Referring to “United States of Europe” idea, she stated that if SPD has more in mind than to set a headline, then they should bring it up in a public debate.
“I would like to ask them to start a public debate for the future of Europe and do it in a way that people across Europe will be able to speak about it, a bottom-up approach should be adopted,” the Die Linke politician noted, pointing out that in the future EU scenarios presented by the Commission, there was no involvement of people in any scenario.