Merkel, Macron vow closer co-operation, pledge to reform eurozone
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed closer co-operation with France at a joint press conference with President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday, including backing Macron's suggestion of creating an EU finance minister position and a eurozone budget.
Speaking at the Élysée Palace, Merkel said she wanted to bring a new focus to Franco-German relations, promising a closer alliance between the two largest EU economies with the aim of reforming the bloc.
”I believe that we have shown shortly after the new government here was installed that we are ready to boost Franco-German relations with a new impetus,” Merkel said.
Merkel also she was open to the creation of an EU finance minister position and a budget for the eurozone, as proposed by Macron. The moves would require changes to current EU treaties.
"I have nothing against a eurozone budget [and] we can talk about creating a European finance minister," Merkel said.
"We agree that the eurozone must be stabilised and further developed," Merkel added. "It is in our greatest interest that all eurozone countries are strong."
Merkel hinted in late May that a major geostrategic shift may be under way when she told a Munich rally that Europe must fight “for our destiny” in the wake of Brexit and an apparent US withdrawal from the world stage.
Merkel said Thursday that while last week's G-20 summit saw some common ground with the United States – on fighting terrorism, for example – "we also had to name clear differences, for instance, regrettably, the difference on whether we need the Paris climate accord or not".
"We did not paper over these differences," she added. "But nevertheless, maintaining contact (with the US) – the ability to communicate – is, of course, important."
Macron and Merkel said they both supported the European defence fund, calling it an "important pillar of the integration of the European defence sector".
The fund, which was created by the EU last month with an annual budget of €5.5 billion ($6.1 billion), lays the basis for permanent EU military cooperation.
The French leader was also set to press Merkel for a financial and military contribution to a joint anti-jihadist regional force called the G5 Sahel made up of forces from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
Germany prepares to vote
Merkel reiterated Thursday that major reforms would have to wait until after the September vote, which her centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is expected to win.
"We need a mandate from parliament, which we will seek after the elections," she said.
Macron was elected in May promising to overhaul the 28-member bloc with a host of initiatives to deepen EU integration in the areas of defence, security and immigration.
"With the chancellor (Merkel), I want to build ambitious and concrete projects, with a clear purpose," he told regional daily Ouest-France on Thursday. "I want the eurozone to have more coherence and convergence."
Macron has warned Germany that it must move to correct the "dysfunctions" of the eurozone to provide it with "the fate it deserves".
"France must reform its economy to give it more vigour," he added. But he said Germany, for its part, "must support a revival of public and private investment in Europe".
It is not the first time the French and German governments have held a joint cabinet meeting – the last one was in April – but both sides are keen to capitalise on the momentum generated by Macron's victory.
The bloc is still grappling with the fallout from Britain's shock vote to exit the EU in a referendum in June 2016.
Brexit, along with a perceived shift in US strategy under President Donald Trump as well as cyber aggressions from Russia, have given the bloc a renewed sense of purpose.
After morning discussions with Merkel, Macron will host Trump for talks in the afternoon before they head to dinner at the Michelin-starred Jules Verne restaurant in the Eiffel Tower.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)