Macron to press ahead with speech outlining vision to rebuild EU

French president will not be distracted from plans for deeper integration by tricky new coalition government in Germany

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, is to press ahead with a major speech setting out plans to “rebuild” the EU, despite fears that a new coalition government in Berlin could limit his ambitions.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, who in recent months had cautiously warmed to Macron’s proposed radical overhaul of the eurozone, won a fourth term in office this weekend. But she faces difficult coalition talks with smaller parties in the face of opposition from the emboldened far-right, anti-Europe Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party.

The prospect of Merkel sharing power in a coalition with the pro-business Free Democratic party could create problems for Macron’s plans for deeper integration of the eurozone with a shared budget and finance minister.

Christian Lindner, the FDP leader, remains fiercely critical of Macron’s ideas for eurozone governance, and hours after the election result said he would put the brakes on with “red lines” against Macron’s plans for a single eurozone budget.

Lindner sought to hammer home German taxpayers’ fears that a more integrated eurozone with its own budget meant Germany being made to pay for bills left unpaid in other states, naming France and Italy. “For us, it’s unimaginable,” he said.

The Greens, the other potential German coalition partner with Merkel, are in principle closer to some of Macron’s views. But with the FDP as a partner and the AfD pushing back loudly in parliament, the prospect of Merkel selling deeper European integration to her coalition and the wider public looks far more challenging.

The centrist Macron, who was elected in May against Marine Le Pen of the far-right Front National, has staked his presidency on an overhaul of the EU and closer eurozone cooperation after Brexit.

Macron maintains that his “historic reconstruction of Europe and the eurozone”, designed to reconcile the EU with disgruntled citizens after a decade of financial and immigration problems, is urgent, not least to stem rising far-right parties. But he cannot move without Germany’s agreement.

The French president will make his key speech at Sorbonne University in Paris on Tuesday, in which he is expected to give a roadmap fleshing out his ideas for the EU and shoring up the euro, including a separate budget, a finance ministry and a European monetary fund. The mood in Paris was one of determination, with Macron’s entourage insisting now was a crucial time to lay out the plans.

“We don’t want to weigh on internal debate [in Germany],” an Élysée official said. “We just want to put forward our clear proposals.”

Another French official said: “Now is the moment to explicitly set out what France wants to do, otherwise it would be seen as too late.”

Some have questioned the wisdom of France forcing the EU issue on to the table during German coalition talks. But the view in Paris is that Macron’s detailed explanations should counter any negativity in Berlin.

Macron, who is fiercely pro-European, was elected after a clear and constantly repeated promise to transform the EU hand in hand with Germany, but there was far less talk of the future shape of the bloc in the German election campaign.

German politicians are aware that the unemployment rate in France of almost 10% is more than twice that in Germany, raising the concern that any eurozone budget transfers would go one way. If Macron is to get Berlin on board, he must convince it that he is delivering domestic structural reforms to loosen the labour market and reduce unemployment.

Macron’s haste on the EU has shone the spotlight on his close personal working relationship with Merkel. Macron is a young former investment banker who is keen on literature and philosophy, and styles himself as a visionary. He was not yet 12 when the Berlin Wall fell. Merkel, 63, is a scientist from the former East Germany who is committed to a united Europe, not as an idealist but from a sense of German interest. Macron once complained that the EU had a lot of people tinkering at it with screwdrivers, “but we are still lacking a vision”. Berlin has in recent years often seemed content with that slow tinkering response.

The French leader, who shares a form of centrist politics with Merkel, has tried to improve his working relationship with the chancellor after the lacklustre exchanges she had with recent French presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande. He has appointed more German speakers to leading French roles, including prime minister and economy minister, than any other recent French president. Macron and Merkel speak regularly, in English.

“In Germany, Emmanuel Macron’s tone has been right. He has no prejudice, which is important,” said a well-placed French source. “Many people cannot consider the Germans without historical prejudice or fixed ideas about Germany being dominant.”

In Paris diplomatic circles, many have been keen to stress that even if there are disagreements, it does not mean the powerful France-Germany partnership will not work. Paradoxically, the Franco-German motor of Europe has often worked best when leaders of opposite political persuasions have been in power.

As François Heisbourg, the chairman of the IISS and board member of respected French and German thinktanks, said of EU reconstruction: “What will be hard is if there is inertia on the German side. Inertia is hard to overcome.”


Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

The GuardianTramp

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