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Macron seeks Merkel's support for EU reform in Berlin talks

John MacDougall, AFP | France's Emmanuel Macron and Germany's Angela Merkel give a joint press conference on April 19, 2018 in Berlin.

French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Berlin Thursday for talks with Angela Merkel aimed at winning support from the German chancellor for his ambitious reform plans for the European Union.

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Before starting talks, the two leaders said they would present a united front at a June meeting of European Union leaders on reforming the 19-member eurozone, which Merkel said they agreed was "not yet sufficiently crisis-proof".

Their meeting took place against a backdrop of grumbling by lawmakers from Merkel's conservative bloc, who are wary that Macron's call for more solidarity in the eurozone could see German taxpayers' money used to fund profligate member states.

"No monetary union can exist without elements of convergence," the French leader told a press conference with Merkel in the German capital before their talks.

"The most important thing is not to react on such and such instrument at this stage, but to be sure that we share the same goals and to have a joint political objective," he added.

'No monetary union without convergence'

Macron's vision includes turning Europe's existing bailout fund into a European Monetary Fund (EMF), to act as a buffer in any future financial crises in the bloc, which was nearly torn apart in a debt crisis that took hold in 2009.

He has also suggested the eurozone have its own finance minister and, at one point, floated the idea of a budget for the currency bloc worth hundreds of billions of euros.

Germany's Social Democrats (SPD), Merkel's junior coalition partner, sympathise with Macron's call for solidarity. They want him to be rewarded for efforts to reform the French economy, well aware that a big chunk of French voters remain susceptible to far-right and far-left populists sceptical about the EU.

But Merkel's larger conservative bloc insists on what they call the principle of “no common liability”, whereby individual member states carry responsibility for their own economic risks.

‘French chauvinism’

Markus Kerber, a professor of political economy at the Technical University of Berlin, said the French president would find his “beginner’s charm” has worn off among a sceptical German public.

“Macron has come to put Merkel in his pocket but he will not succeed,” Kerber told FRANCE 24, likening the French president’s pitch in favour of sweeping EU reform to a “new kind of French chauvinism”.

“He presents his reforms in a very autocratic fashion and this does not please the German public,” Kerber added, noting that many other EU countries had deep misgivings about French attempts to broker a deal with Germany alone.

The Netherlands and Scandinavian countries, in particular, have made it clear “that future reform of the Eurozone is not a matter which is going to be decided by Macron and Merkel", Kerber said.

'Macron has come to put Merkel in his pocket, but it won't work'

France and Germany, which account for around 50 percent of eurozone output, are essential to the reform drive. But while they often put on a strong show of political unity and shared intent, the devil is frequently in the detail.

Underlining a sense of urgency for reform among EU officials, European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Pierre Moscovici said time is running out for deepening the integration of the Eurozone.

"We are some way from reaching a consensus on the priorities and method for moving the euro area forward, and time is running out," Moscovici said in a speech at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

"If the June Euro Summit fails to take the necessary decisions, I fear the momentum will be lost," he said.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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