What we need is a reliable agenda for real change at a time when the foundations of an open-minded and liberal Europe are under siege everywhere you look.
Such an agenda can only be set and implemented by France and Germany working together. France would not be strong enough on its own; it needs Germany’s gravity. French President Emmanuel Macron – celebrated by many as a visionary for a new Europe – and Angela Merkel complement each other well with the German chancellor likely to continue her pragmatic path with a new government.
Politicians cannot just verbally isolate nationalist, authoritarian tendencies, they need to have courage and modernize, to prove beyond doubt that democracy and a market economy are the best and only way forward. Politicians must show how only humanistic values give people the opportunities they strive for. And this may be a last chance to prove that Europe is also preparing for the future.
This means building on Mr. Macron’s inspiration for the European idea – not least with his speech at the Sorbonne – and together bringing about reforms in the tradition of Franco-German friendship. These five points for Europe should be elementary components of a Franco-German agenda:
First, gradually combining the armies of Germany and France until they are fully integrated. This is how France and Germany must counter stagnating efforts to deepen cooperation among armed forces throughout Europe. Yes, it would mean a joint supreme command and foreign deployments, but there would also be savings on weapons systems and shared responsibility for French nuclear weapons. For Germany, this would also mean committing to taking more responsibility in global affairs.
Second, both countries must expand and share elements of social partnership, meaning standardizing participative management and expanding dual vocational training systems to a joint labor market policy. Later, this should include joint unemployment insurance that offsets regional and economic asymmetries. This would allow France to transfer strikes and other forms of resistance from the streets to participative management.
Europe needs pioneers – and Germany and France can and must be these pioneers.
What is needed thirdly is a uniform asylum and refugee policy, ranging from humanitarian corridors and accelerated procedures to the safeguarding of external borders, a common deportation and repatriation practice and support for countries of origin. Common immigration policy is long overdue and would serve as an essential starting point.
Fourth, a shared approach to upgrading digital connectivity and all related matters. Politicians should start by creating a Franco-German single market, which should include everything from data protection (away with the regionalism in Germany) and uniform promotion mechanisms (also for new companies and the digitization of small and medium-sized businesses) to uniform rules for the market and cybersecurity.
Fifth, we need an initiative for “artificial intelligence” research, funding and start-ups. With decisive action, we can expand both countries’ strong positions into a role as global leaders. But this would mean investments in the double-digit billions over the next five years.
The growth these measures could trigger in both countries would not only help them recoup this investment quickly, but also sustainably – and give Europe the opportunity to outstrip the United States and Asia. This Franco-German reform agenda should be implemented at top speed in both countries in the next legislative period and set up as a beacon project with and for Europe.
Europe needs pioneers – and Germany and France can and must be those pioneers. The Élysée Treaty enshrined the Franco-German friendship and mutual consultations in 1963. Now it’s time to take this friendship to the next and future level, regardless of what the next German coalition government looks like.
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