Differences between Merkel and Macron are slight but real

"Europe is not working well with 27 members. How can we explain that it will work better with more?” the French president said, defending his previously held position against EU enlargement talks with Albania and Northern Macedonia. EPA-EFE/ARIS OIKONOMOU / POOL

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave their views on Europe in their concluding remarks at the end of the European Council Summit on Friday (18 October). Although they attempted to show a united front on EU issues, differences persisted. EURACTIV France reports.

As the Summit neared its end, both Macron and Merkel addressed questions regarding Brexit, enlargement, Commissioner picks and Turkey. However, differences have crept into their speeches.

Brexit

On Brexit, Macron welcomed the agreement. In so doing, he ruled out the possibility of prolonging Brexit negotiations and confirmed that the UK would leave the EU.

“I wish we could get this over with and talk about the future,” Emmanuel Macron said, calling for no further delay, just as Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker did earlier on.

Commenting on yesterday’s agreement on Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, the German chancellor stressed that London is “of course” losing the benefits of the single market.

Angela Merkel stressed that the single market is “very well anchored” in the European structure and that it is now up to London to define the future trade relations between the EU 27 and the UK.

Coincidentally or not, on the same day, the British government called on German companies to get prepared for Brexit in full-page newspaper ads. “Do you want to continue trading with the United Kingdom after Brexit? So act now!”, the ads read.

Enlargement

“Europe is not working well with 27 members. How can we explain that it will work better with more member states?” the French president said, defending his previously held position against EU opening enlargement talks with Albania and Northern Macedonia.

“The bigger the toast, the more we have to spread the butter. And we have less butter and not much of a taste of toast,” he explained to justify his refusal, arguing that “Europe needed more integration, clarity in its choices”.

“It would have been a political mistake to open discussions with Macedonia and not Albania,” he said, highlighting that it would affect the stability of the region. The French leader advocated for the need for a strategic dialogue for the two countries’ accession.

“Otherwise, the EU will become some kind of headless duck,” the president concluded.

According to diplomatic sources, Angela Merkel, Eastern European states, the Commission and Council President Donald Tusk tried to convince Macron last night, without success, that the EU must keep its promises and give the green light for accession negotiations.

The Chancellor said that the EU member states had “unfortunately not reached an agreement”. This would, of course, cause “disappointment” for both Balkan countries.

According to her, the EU states want to “come back to the issue” before the summit planned with the Western Balkan countries under the Croatian presidency in May 2020. This could theoretically take place at EU summits in December or March.

With a new attempt at enlargement in the Western Balkans, the EU also wants to combat the growing influence of Russia and China in the region. “The EU has not kept its promises because of internal problems,” Austrian Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn tweeted.

Croatia, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU’s Council of Ministers in the first half of 2020, wants to give new impetus to the enlargement debate, a diplomat said in Brussels. The Zagreb summit in May next year should focus on this issue, he said.

The new European Commission

The French President defended the Commission candidacy of Sylvie Goulard, who was rejected by the European Parliament, explaining once again that she had been the victim of a “settling of the scores” after the Parliament’s legal affairs committee already disqualified the EPP’s Hungarian candidate, László Trócsányi, as well as Romanian socialist Rovana Plumb.

“There is a problem of the hegemony of some parties that were used to operating alone. It is now necessary to operate with three”, he stressed, while comparing the hearings of European Commissioners to the dynamics of pyrolysis: “everything is put inside, and destroyed,” he added.

The president also indicated that he would propose another candidate in the coming days, so that the Commission would be in place by 1 December.

Turkey

Referring to Turkey’s attack on the Kurds in northern Syria, he said that it was “not a great success for Europe”.

According to the French president, “we need more solidarity and more power. It is not coherent to continue to expand,” he hammered while stressing the differences between member states when it comes to Macedonia and Albania.

For her part, Chancellor Merkel described it as “a shame” that efforts to find a political solution in Syria were repelled by the military offensive.

Germany has between 3 million and 3.5 million Germans of Turkish origin and must also manage the tensions that arise between Turkish and Kurdish supporters on its soil.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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