German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to intensify the Franco-German tandem and lead Europe on a path of reform to enable a stronger and more sovereign EU.
After Macron laid out his vision for Europe during the conclusion of the Conference on the Future of Europe on Monday (9 May), he travelled to Berlin to discuss the implementation of the recommendations for EU reform.
In light of the current challenges – especially the Russian war of aggression – the “German-French partnership and friendship is more important than ever as a motor and source of inspiration for the European project,” Scholz stated at the press conference.
Both leaders announced that they want to intensify bilateral consolations on the EU’s reform and speak with one voice. Therefore, the two heads of state announced a joint consultation of ministers that should take place in the aftermath of the French general election in early July.
“I would like us to once again strengthen coordination at the bilateral level and for a German-French Council of Ministers to take place in the coming weeks,” Macron said.
According to analysts, this could be a game-changer.
“The Franco-German council of ministers, that is taking place after the parliamentary elections in France, could be a starting point for a relaunch of the European reconstruction,” Director of the Center for European Policy in Paris, Marc Uzan, told EURACTIV.
Reform of the EU?
Both leaders agreed that the current situation requires decisive decisions. While many of the recommendations of the Future Conference would be achievable in the current treaty framework, “there are other issues that require profound change,” Macron said.
Macron, therefore, also pushes for a convent that could lead to treaty changes. A similar path was also envisioned in the German coalition agreement, which called for using the conference’s outcomes as a “constitutional moment” for the EU that should lead to “further development towards a federal European state”.
However, Scholz showed some hesitance to reiterate these ambitious goals by stating that “we would be on board” if “consensus could be found” on treaty reform.
“Greater efficiency can also be achieved in Europe without having to go straight to treaty changes,” Scholz stated. He stressed that “it would be important” to move to majority voting in EU foreign policy matters that is already possible under the existing treaty framework – a move that is also strongly supported by Macron.
Towards a multi-speed Europe?
The call for EU reform by the Conference on the Future of Europe triggered a considerable backlash by Eastern European and Scandinavian member states.
Thirteen member states said in a joint document that they would not “support unconsidered and premature attempts to launch a process towards Treaty change.”
Macron indirectly responded to these concerns during his speech in the European Parliament on Monday by opting for a Europe of different speeds.
“I am well aware of the fears of a multi-speed Europe,” Macron said, adding that the “most sceptical or the most hesitant” shouldn’t slow Europe down. This is what “will allow our Europe to assert itself as a power,” he stressed.
Macron also advocated for a multi-speed Europe that would provide more flexible integration of the European Neighbourhood – especially when it comes to the Western Balkans or Ukraine and the United Kingdom. According to Macron, this could take shape in the form of a “European political community”.
This concept would entail the option to establish closer cooperation with countries that are geographically close and “attached to the same set of values as us” without going through the lengthy process of enlargement, Macron stated.
While this political community would not close the doors to EU accession, it would provide a platform of political rapprochement and partial integration without being formally part of the bloc.
Scholz called the proposal an “interesting approach to deal with the big challenges that lie ahead of us.”
However, Scholz also stressed that this approach should not hamper the accession process of the current candidate countries in the Western Balkans—like North Macedonia.
Overall, Scholz stressed that “we want to reach concrete agreements very quickly in order to move forward with the integration of our EU and with regard to the Western Balkans.”
[Edited by Alice Taylor]