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Merkel-Macron meeting shows the 'Franco-German couple is still functioning'

Janek Skarzynski, AFP | Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel in Tallinn, Estonia, on September 28, 2017.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to the Élysée presidential palace on Friday is an effort to show that Paris and Berlin remain united and determined to forge ahead on Europe.


The veteran German leader has yet to form a governing coalition, but that delay did not stop Merkel from offering her support for her French counterpart’s proposals for Europe.

"Germany and France can and should take the lead on many questions (related to Europe) and therefore I understand that France is waiting until we have a new government," said Merkel at a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris Friday.

"On a broad basis, there is absolutely no difference that I see. It is a Europe that must have a common foreign policy on strategic questions, a Europe that must create its own development policies, a Europe of defence, and it is a Europe that has to be economically strong," she added.

Merkel’s visit coincides with the 55th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty establishing friendly relations between France and Germany after the Second World War. The French and German lower houses of parliament are slated to pass a resolution on Monday outlining prospective elements for a new treaty and reinforcing cooperation between the countries’ parliaments.

In the run up to Merkel’s visit, FRANCE 24 spoke with Marion Gaillard, a specialist in Franco-German relations at SciencesPo Paris, about the state of Franco-German bilateral relations.

FRANCE 24: What is the nature of this Angela Merkel visit?

Marion Gaillard: It is first and foremost a symbolic visit meant to illustrate that, despite the difficulties Merkel is having in forming a government, the Franco-German couple is still functioning. This meeting also shows that Macron is banking on continuity and Merkel’s anticipated renewal as chancellor. Of course, as the Élysée presidential palace announced, the future of the EU will be on the menu of discussions but they couldn’t be very advanced talks.

Merkel has agreed a coalition blueprint with the Social Democrats (SPD) that will be submitted to SPD delegates for a vote on Sunday. Would that “grand coalition” be in Macron’s interest?

That kind of coalition would clearly fit the bill for the French president, whose EU reform plans, and in particular those for the eurozone, were frowned upon by the liberal democrat FDP leader Christian Lindner. So the failure of the “Jamaica coalition” [in reference to three parties’ signature colours: black for Merkel’s CDU, yellow for the FDP and green for the Greens] was a relief for the Élysée. Instead, there is now a government coalition blueprint between the CDU-CSU and the SPD that makes a priority of European issues and that clearly states the objective of “bolstering” and “reforming” the eurozone alongside France. That doesn’t mean that Germany is going to fall in line with every French proposal, but still, seeing France mentioned in a German government coalition blueprint is huge. It was probably one of [SPD leader] Martin Schulz’s conditions for a coalition deal with Angela Merkel, a coalition that his base doesn’t want. Now, if a government is indeed formed, the real signal would be if the Economy and Finance Minister is an SPD figure.

Is the fact that France’s proposals for Europe are an issue for Germany’s coalition proof that Macron has assumed Merkel’s former de facto role as the leader of Europe?

One must be careful with that. What is true is that Macron wanted to take the lead in Europe in presenting an ambitious plan during his Sorbonne speech in September. For the first time in 20 years, France is back on centre stage with a vision and proposals. The French president also took advantage of the German political situation to occupy that space, but it isn’t in his interest to stay alone too long, because for his words to turn into strong actions, he will need Merkel.

>> Read more: 'Patience!' Merkel coalition woes not the blow to EU some fear (or crave)

Actually, France or Germany, alone, does not have sufficient legitimacy to take the lead in Europe. France, on the one hand, doesn’t have the necessary economic results and is sometimes seen by partners as arrogant. Germany, on the other hand, doesn’t really appreciate the idea that it must drag all of Europe along with it – it isn’t in Germany’s nature. So the two countries complete each other well. Macron and Merkel will have to share the leadership.

Revising the Élysée Treaty is also on the agenda. What can we expect?

The relationship between France and Germany has suffered from the French decline in recent years, so revising the Élysée Treaty will allow them to affirm that the Franco-German couple is back. Now, we will have to see what is added because that treaty already covers many domains. That sort of bilateral cooperation, in domains as varied as defence, foreign policy, research, education, culture and youth, is unique in the world.

One thing on the table is bolstering cooperation between the two parliaments. It is rather a good thing because it will take things beyond the governmental stage and improve the understanding French people have of the German federal system. But beyond grand general principles, one must wait to know precisely the content of the new text before passing judgment.

This article has been translated from the original, in French.

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