French Prime Minister Manuel Valls sounded an alarm during his visit to Berlin on November 17. He said the European Union is in danger of breaking apart unless France and Germany, in particular, work harder to stimulate growth and employment and heed citizens’ concerns.
Valls said the two countries, for decades the axis around which the EU revolved, had to help refocus the bloc to tackle an immigration crisis, a lack of solidarity between member states, Britain’s looming exit, and terrorism.
“Europe is in danger of falling apart,” Valls said at an event organised by the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. “So Germany and France have a huge responsibility.”
The French PM sounded the alarm after Donald Trump’s presidential election victory in the United States and the growing concern about how this could affect Europe.
Certainly, far-rightists and populists will try to exploit to the maximum the ‘Trump effect’ and seek to translate it in electoral advances.
The political climate in Europe is favourable to populist rhetoric that has been fuelled by the refugee and migrant problems, which remain unresolved, as well as rising unemployment rates and weak social welfare policies. In addition, Brexit might not only close the door to European immigrants, but create more jobless in other European societies.
Indeed, France and Germany are an axis in the heart of Europe. But the latter is the strongest one of the two. Germany decided how financial discipline will be applied in the EU member states and imposed the austerity model in the European Union.
The result of this exercise was a wave of Europhobia and a rise of anti-democratic sentiment across the European Union – fanned by high levels of unemployment, high levels of taxation and the depauparisation of large parts of the middle class, especially in the southern EU member states.
France and Germany are now close to paying the consequences since the far-right has become stronger in both countries.
The far-right in both countries will have the opportunity to test how much they can capitalise on Trump’s victory, as well as austerity and the refugee crisis next year. In 2017, France will hold presidential elections and Germany will hold federal elections.
In France, Marine Le Pen with her National Front will face off, in the second round, against a candidate supported by the rest of the French political world. Practically, what this means is that the National Front has attracted a large percentage of French society. It is the part of French society that is against the European Union and in favour of the return to a single national state.
In Germany, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party could become a threat for the formation of a coalition government by democratic parties. If, as the polls suggest, the far-right party increases considerably its electoral influence it will show that a large part of German society is against the existence of the European Union.
This is not a very optimist future for two countries that want to remain the main axis and to defend the European Union and the European idea.
According to the French PM, France must continue to open up its economy, not least by cutting corporate taxation, while Germany and the EU as a whole must increase investment to stimulate growth and job creation, as well as boosting defence.
Will these simple measures be enough? Will their implementation stop the mesmerisation of European citizens by the far-right and populist rhetoric? Or is it necessary to wait for the result of both French and German elections in order to determine whether there is a real danger of the EU collapsing?