Yes or no

Should Germany Cough Up for France?

PK Deutsch-französische Wirtschafts- und Finanzpolitik
A friend in need is a friend indeed. Source: DPA.

No! The EU already wastes billions and more cash won’t stop the spread of populism.

Whether Emmanuel Macron’s presidency will be a success or Ms. Le Pen will triumph in five years doesn’t depend on Berlin. Nor Brussels. It depends solely on the French, a point which shouldn’t need to be made but there’s so much confusion about the EU that not everyone is clear on that. Only the French can dig themselves out of their permanent state of crisis.

Mr. Macron knows that. He stresses that France has to reform its economy and get its public finances in order. But at the same time, he wants to see a new system of financial transfers in Europe. Countries with the euro should elect their own euro parliament that would then redistribute the billions, he says. French economist Thomas Piketty recently commented that in such a parliament, the debt discussion would be different if France, Italy and Spain formed the majority while Germany only represented 25 percent of the EU. Should Germany let that happen?

The whole idea of more money and power for Brussels is wrong. Europhobic populism isn’t only rampant in France, it’s also found in Germany, the Netherlands and Austria. The UK has already voted to leave and not because it wasn’t getting enough cash from Brussels.

The EU spends billions of euros and the outcome is rubbish. Researchers say money like structural funds don’t have any effect. Measured per capita, Greece has long been one of the largest recipients of European aid – then we hear Athens’ economics minister complaining that money from Brussels has done more to harm his country than help it. So would an even bigger apparatus to spend that money help?

With every euro Brussels hands out, the demand grows louder for a say in the politics of the recipient country. If we had a European unemployment insurance, which Mr. Macron has also suggested, could the French still get more welfare than Germany and for longer, as they do today? Nowadays, French workers retire at 62 – that would also have to change. Mr. Macron does keep calling for social systems to be harmonized but that could cause even more strife. It was naive to think the euro would bring greater harmony; it’s already causing discord and more social legislation from Brussels could have the same effect.

A monetary union only needs additional aid for emergency cases. And I mean emergency cases. That doesn’t mean France, which is suffering from its own economic policy. In no other industrial nation does the state hand out so much (57 percent of GNP instead of 44 percent as in Germany), no other country in Europe, outside of Luxembourg, pays a higher minimum wage, none caps working hours with such rigor. It is far from certain that most French people would back Mr. Macron if he wanted to make fundamental changes to any of this. And who knows, maybe just a few modifications would actually get the economy humming again.

But the responsibility for all that lies in France. And that’s where it belongs. Europe should allow a variety of models.  That’s a better protection for the EU against division than ever more communitization.

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