A day after meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May, French President, Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel met at Paris’ Élysée Palace for a critical private meeting about the future of the European Union.
Merkel travelled to Paris to meet Macron for talks on the 55th anniversary of the signing of the Élysée Treaty – a landmark friendship agreement between the historic rival signed by then-French President Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer, chancellor of West Germany.
The treaty was seen at the time as a major shift in bilateral relations between France and Germany as the agreement called for regular high-level consultations between the Paris and the former West German government on key issues that included education, culture, and defence.
Echoing the historic 1963 accord, both Merkel and Macron agreed that Europe must be ready to answer key and often tough questions to deal with challenges in the future. Chief among these issues is the establishment of a common foreign policy, as well as a unified approach towards economic development and robust investment into the digitisation of the continent.
During a brief press following their meeting, and without providing specifics, Macron admitted that Europe will continue to face difficult times.
Commenting on the meeting, Marcon said the negotiations showed that a real appetite for the European project still exists. Merkel underlined this point by saying that the Franco-German friendship is always embedded in the question: “How can we strengthen Europe?
“The Elysée Treaty was a brave step 55 years ago. We want to renew it. We are ready to meet the challenges of the 21st century together,” said Merkel.
A day before the leaders of Europe’s two largest economies were scheduled to meet, France’s finance minister Bruno Le Maire held talks with his German counterpart Peter Altmaier in Paris. Both men expressed their willingness to put forward and deliver a Eurozone reform package by June.
France and Germany will work in close cooperation with Italy and Spain to develop a common strategy for overhauling the Eurozone, even if Berlin must take a backseat due to the ongoing negotiations over forming a new government. At the last EU summit, the two leaders said they were willing to come up with shared reform proposals by March when European Monetary Union decisions are to be made by the EU-28.
While Macron had pushed the idea of a standalone budget and a single finance minister for the currency bloc, Merkel doesn’t yet appear open to the idea, Le Maire signalled a day before the bilateral meeting and hinted that it may be some time after March before an agreement can be signed.
Speaking about the economy, Merkel said Germany and France can go forward together and develop a common corporate tax law. “We need a Europe that is economically strong and competitive.”
She supports first developing a common migration policy over strengthening the Eurozone. This is at odds with France’s priorities, which puts a heavy emphasis on boosting the EU’s economy and monetary policy.
“We have an immediate priority to complete the process of creating a banking union, as well as a capital markets union, and tax convergence with Germany,” Le Maire said from Paris.
For the time being it seems the focus will now shift from new, expected reforms, to unfinished components of the European project, including the creating of the Eurozone’s banking union to establish unified oversight and regulation. Along with the banking union, comes the capital markets union reform, with similar obstacles on the bloc’s way.
Germany remains concerned about how risks will be shared among EU members, despite the supervisory powers that the European Central Bank now possesses. The bloc still has not agreed on a mechanism for winding down problematic banks.
Merkel will next attend the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, in a return to the world stage after months of a political stalemate at home following tense elections in September. Merkel’s spokesperson Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin that she is confirmed to give a speech on Europe at Davos on Wednesday, the same day Macron and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni plan to address the forum.
Europe is the day’s focus and it seems appropriate for the Chancellor to make her opinions known,” Seibert said.
According to Seibert, meeting US President Donald Trump in Davos is not on Merkel’s agenda.
Trump is expected to address the Forum on Friday where he will likely put forward his isolationist “America First” economic and foreign policy plan.