French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel outlined their plans to breathe new life into the European Union and its French-German motor at a joint press conference in Paris Thursday.
Talking to reporters after a joint meeting of German ministers with their French counterparts in the Elysee Palace, both leaders agreed to step up cooperation to tackle climate change and to bolster defense, including development of a new European fighter jet.
They also strove to downplay the rift between Europe and Donald Trump’s America in the wake of last week’s G20 summit. The US president landed in Paris during the joint French-German cabinet meeting and was due to meet Mr. Macron in the evening and at the Bastille Day celebrations on Friday. “We need the United States of America,” the French head of state pointedly remarked.
A statement released by the Elysee Palace Thursday said France and Germany agreed to “develop a European air combat system” under their leadership, to replace their fleets of combat aircraft in the long term. “Both partners want to develop a joint roadmap by mid-2018,” the statement said. Mr. Macron called this decision a “revolution,” and added that it would be carried out “in a peaceful, constructive and long-lasting way.” He said the project would replace Europe’s various existing combat aircraft, which often compete against each other. “Today, we end up with heavy projects, too many standards and qualification at European level and sometimes intra-European competition to bring them internationally.”
“All G20 partners, except the United States, agreed that the Paris climate agreement is irreversible”
Ms. Merkel replied she welcomed this project and proceeded to highlight other joint programs, “in particular the Eurodrones, for which France and Germany are strongly involved,” as well as cooperation in space research, digital issues and cybersecurity.
Ahead of the summit, it was widely expected the focus of the talks would be on fiscal and economic policy, with French and German finance ministers presenting plans for the harmonization of corporate taxation. But in the end, Ms. Merkel and Mr. Macron did not provide much detail – a sign that Berlin and Paris still have to find a common stance in this area. France and Germany “are considering a reform of corporate taxation,” Ms. Merkel said, adding “it is complicated, but it could boost the common market.”
The chancellor also mentioned the possibility of creating a Eurozone budget and a European finance minister — two long-time suggestions of Mr. Macron’s that are highly controversial in Germany. She added she was in favor of a very ambitious euro zone timetable but emphasized that “for such substantive developments,” Germany needed to consult its Parliament.
Both leaders found it easier to be more specific on climate policy. They announced the establishment of a joint research program on climate and energy, with Berlin funding €15 million ($17.1 million) into the project and Paris twice as much.
The more Ms. Merkel and Mr. Macron spoke about climate policy, the bigger the elephant in the room grew. “All G20 partners, except the United States, agreed that the Paris climate agreement is irreversible,” Ms. Merkel said matter-of-factly. Echoing remarks she made after the G7 meeting in Italy in May, she added that Europe should “take its own destiny.” And although both the US president and the German Chancellor were in Paris Thursday, they did not meet.
But Europe is not about to burn bridges with Washington quite yet.
“Just because we have our disagreements doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk anymore,” Mr. Macron said. “Actually, we should talk even more because of our disagreements.”
On Friday, Mr. Trump will attend the Bastille Day commemoration on the Champs-Elysees with Mr. Macron – the first American president to do so since George H.W. Bush in 1989. Although the new occupant of the White House is as unpopular in France as he is in Germany, Mr. Macron invited him to Paris nonetheless, in order to commemorate the US entry into World War I in 1917. “France and the United States have been partners for centuries,” he said. “History is bigger than us.”
Jean-Michel Hauteville is an editor with Handelsblatt Global in Berlin. To reach the author: email@example.com.