Less than two months after celebrating a new Franco-German treaty, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron are diverging on the future of Europe in the run-up to European Parliament elections in May.
Germany’s Chancellor Merkel on Monday (11 March) backed key European reform ideas from her presumptive heir, CDU party chief Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, that are at odds with Macron’s vision.
Most controversial among them are a call for a single EU permanent seat in the UN Security Council (UNSC), where France is among the five permanent members.
Merkel said that a single European seat was “a very good concept for the future” and would help “to gather the European voices” in the world body.
Germany has for years campaigned for a permanent seat on the UNSC alongside World War II victor nations the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France.
“The fact that France is sceptical about a European seat at the UN is well known,” added the chancellor, speaking at a press conference with Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins.
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Kramp-Karrenbauer, or AKK as she is known, had argued in an article on Saturday for a series of steps toward greater European unity, including on security where she also suggested that Europe operate a joint aircraft carrier in future.
But AKK, Merkel’s hand-picked successor who hopes to contest the next German election for the Christian Democrats, also rejected some of Macron’s positions, especially for a pooling of European debt and on harmonising policy on social welfare.
She also suggested that the European Parliament should sit only in Brussels and scrap its second seat in the French city of Strasbourg, an arrangement she called an “anachronism”.
‘We do not move forward’
Germany and France are traditionally seen as the twin engines of the European project, and in late January they signed a major new cooperation treaty.
But the two leaders, Macron and Merkel, are also from political blocs that are rivals in the upcoming European elections.
While Macron’s Republic on the Move party will take a common front with the liberals, Merkel’s CDU is campaigning with the conservative European People’s Party.
Merkel, Germany’s veteran leader who has said she will not seek re-election when her current term ends in 2021, on Monday broadly lent her weight to AKK’s core ideas.
Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert stressed at a news conference that AKK’s plans for Europe “harmonise with the thoughts of the chancellor”.
AKK had also disagreed with Macron’s idea for a Europe-wide coordination on minimum salaries, arguing that the “Europeanisation of social services and the minimum wage would be the wrong way”.
French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux sought to play down the discord, speaking of only “three points of difference” — the UN seat, the minimum wage, and the European Parliament issue.
European Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau was clearer in her criticism, speaking to Le Monde daily and other French media.
“When I continue to hear that we should not pool risk, it means we do not move forward, we do not change anything,” she said.