In an interview to German public broadcasters ARD Tagesthemen and Deutsche Welle, the French President Emmanuel Macron presented his EU reform agenda as the precondition for a strong Europe.
Macron expressed “a lot of hope” that Germany and France can agree to a common reform agenda for a more “sovereign,” “united” and “democratic” union.
President Macron is in Germany to receive the Charlemagne Prize in Aachen, but also in the aftermath of President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. In that context, Macron’s recognition for “his vision of a new Europe” in Aachen is perfectly timed, despite the pushback against his reform agenda, within the ranks of Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU).
A recent poll suggests that German conservative backbenchers may be losing this political debate.
Anti-Federalist sentiment in Germany
Although the Charlemagne Prize Board of Directors focuses on Macron’s vision for a Europe that stands against isolationism and nationalism, critics in Germany fear Macron’s views of “solidarity.”
Ahead of the EU Summit in June, Macron’s stated priority is to defend the Eurozone against the next financial crisis. Germany seems reluctant to concede to any proposal that requires debt mutualization or social transfers, although it is willing to pick up its own share of budget contributions.
Peculiarly for the Franco-German axis, the emerging disagreement is framed as a conflict between an intergovernmental and a federalist approach to the EU, in which Germany opposes federalism.
The problem is not security or President Macron’s calls for an EU rapid reaction force that has been on the table for years. The problem is money.
Critics of the Macron reform agenda in Germany see calls for a Eurozone finance minister, a budget, a banking union, a parliament, investment and social transfer policy tools as violating German sovereignty. Merkel’s conservative hardliners, both in the CDU and the Bavarian CSU, are reluctant to accept a eurozone finance minister, managing a “federal budget,” mostly paid for by German taxpayers.
Commenting on President Macron’s address to the European Parliament in April, Alexander Dobrint, of the Bavarian CSU, clearly objected to the idea of a Eurozone finance minister. In the past, the Bavarian CSU has frequently objected to the redistribution between the German south (i.e. Bavaria) and states with a deficit, including Berlin. A big part of conservative Germany does not want to pick up the bill of a strong Europe.
Needless to say that some members states, including Ireland, the Netherlands, Hungary, Luxembourg, Malta and Cyprus are not thrilled about the prospect of tax policy “harmonization.”
Timing and charm offensive
President Trump is undermining the certainty of a Euro-Atlantic community and is making the Franco-German leadership of Europe appear more necessary than ever before. Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement, the Iran deal and the prospect of a trade war suggests German needs Europe. And without French cooperation, Berlin cannot do much, especially in view of Brexit.
Public opinion is turning towards Macron’s way.
A majority of Germans support Macron’s reform agenda, according to an ARD poll published on Wednesday. 82% of those surveyed see the need for EU reforms, although 48% see his economic agenda as going “too far.” What is clear is that the US is Europe’s third most reliable partner (25%), with Russia (30%) being a distant second to France (90%).
Clearly, President Macron has political leverage in Germany but has yet to win the economic argument. 53% of Germans are willing to see national sovereignty ceded to Brussels and 58% want Angela Merkel to facilitate this process. The , of course, course is that public opinion is more volatile than party factions. It is unclear whether Chancellor Merkel can count on public opinion to bolster President Macron’s chances to win the day in Brussels.