better together

Germany should help, not hinder, Macron's EU reforms

Emmanuel MACRON and Sigmar GABRIEL
Emmanuel and Sigmar isn't a boy band. Source: DPA

In Europe, security, economic and migration crises are becoming dangerously tangled. Each individual crisis shows that governments alone cannot effectively cope with them. Disconcerted European citizens, doubts about the effectiveness of democratic politics and growing support for populistic demands of protectionism are the results.

In view of these easy-to-see developments, it is astounding to see Germany’s political detachment towards the country whose president does not want to accept all this and who fights like no other against the imminent decay of the European project: France. The country, by the way, to which Germany owes its return to civilized European society more than any other. The country that was home to President Charles de Gaulle, who had previously fought against Germany as a general.

Every French president wants a strong France, wants to be a leading nation in the European confederation. This is part of the self-image of the “Grande Nation.” But current President Emmanuel Macron also knows that a strong France can only exist in conjunction with a strong Europe. And that political leadership does not mean “France first” but “Europe first.”

Even the strongest nation in Europe will no longer be able to determine its own destiny in the face of the dramatic shifts in the world’s axes of power. That is why Macron speaks of European sovereignty. That’s the extraordinary thing about him.

Germany must become more French in terms of security policy and France more German in terms of economic policy.

Macron is aware that countries will already today, and even more so in the near future, only have sham sovereignty in important areas. In reality, even the big ones are too small to stand their own ground. The path forward with European cooperation will restore sovereignty to the EU member states, which alone they would not retain against major power centers in China, the US, Russia and others that are just emerging.

Nation and Europe, father and mother countries, brother and sister federations, patriotism and the European idea are not opposites for France’s president, but are mutually dependent. This combination is a good antidote to the poison of neo-nationals, protectionists and anti-Europeans who want to convince people that they are better off on their own, and Europe represents a loss of self-determination. Macron’s credo is not “Brussels takes back control,” but “L’Europe reprend le controle” — stepping in for its member states only when they can no longer go it alone.

German politicians, on the other hand, are unfortunately reducing the French president’s commitment to their usual resentment: All he wants is our money. Yeah, it’s about the money, too. Because without investment in the stability of our single currency, it will not work. No currency in the world can sustain more than 19 different financial and economic policies, 19 tax systems and a lack of all macroeconomic control options. If the old West Germany had operated in 1948 with 16 federal states like the current euro zone, the deutsche mark would certainly not have become a model of success. Macron’s initiatives for better monetary union cooperation are therefore also in Germany’s interests of stability.

Economically, France seems to feel more than we do that times are changing. We Germans feel too safe because of our persistently strong economy. The first signs of a slowdown in the global economy, not least due to growing political uncertainties, are often ignored in Germany. In our actions we seem to be more committed than ever to the present and not to the future. The coalition agreement between the CDU/CSU and SPD is a prime example. The consequences of a global downturn as an export-dependent nation would hit us much harder than France, for example.

Emmanuel MACRON and Angela Merke
Chancellor Merkel isn't convinced. Source: Reuters

The massive investment in artificial intelligence in China and the US, the development of completely new forms of mobility, which amounts to a reinvention of the automobile, ever-faster changes in a data-driven global economy. Europe is doing far too little to counter all this, because we still operate in national categories or regard regional mediocrity as more important for European competition law than European champions in an international comparison.

Above all, however, the German reduction of the French proposal to monetary policy shows only one thing: That we in our country have not yet developed a strategic view of what lies ahead. The French president argues above all for much closer cooperation in foreign and security policy, but not for the slowest to set the pace, but rather the fastest.

From border guards to readiness for a common military and non-military security architecture: Macron knows that here too, as Europeans, we only have a chance if we are to make a believable show of power. A weak Europe, on the other hand, is respected neither by the powerful nor by the powerless in this world. The powerful will try to divide us or simply ignore us. The powerless, on the other hand, will not expect effective help from us and will turn to one of the powerful. Even the rebels fighting against Assad in Syria now prefer to talk to Moscow than to us.

The Franco-German team has plenty to do. To get things moving, Germany must become more French in terms of security policy and France more German in terms of economic policy. Above all, however, there must be the will to do so. As far as the prospect of joint initiatives and reforms is concerned, the situation so far looks bleak: If nothing happens, there will be no real breakthroughs in the euro before the end of 2019 or spring 2020.

The chancellor seems to be playing for time at the moment because she lacks support in her party the CDU. The timeframe is tight: Bavaria will vote in October, which means no real chance for change before September. We then enter the final Brexit spurt as the European election campaign begins with the selection of the top candidates. Hard to imagine that any breakthrough could be achieved at the end of the year or the beginning of 2019.

Then comes the election of the European Parliament and the subsequent replacement of all important posts. This will be difficult enough because, according to all the forecasts, the conservative European People’s Party and the Social Democrats together will no longer have a majority. This is probably the real reason why the French president is thinking about a Europeanization of his movement “En Marche.” This could shake things up.

The question is, can we get that far? A turnaround in interest rates could quickly lead to an economic slump. And Italy is something to worry about, because while this important European country is all right in good seas without a real government, in rough seas it could quickly be in trouble. The hope remains that growing international pressure will still bring France and Germany together.

After all, strengthening Europe is only possible through courageous cooperation between the major cities. This contradicts the classic thinking of European politicians, who always rely on the community method and European institutions. In a crisis, however, it depends on the centers of power. And these are still located in two government locations in the capitals: the Bundeskanzleramt in Berlin and the Élysée in Paris.

To contact the author: columnist@handelsblattgroup.com

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