EU reform

Berlin and Paris Lean Closer on Reform

French President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe pose for a family photo after the first cabinet meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris
The new French government – Germany's new besties? Source: Reuters

France’s new president, Emmanuel Macron, may have had a promising first meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel already, but he’s hardly the only one who will need to establish close ties with Berlin in the coming weeks. Lucky for him, many members of Mr. Macron’s newly appointed government have close ties to Germany. Those connections just might help him push through an ambitious European reform package together with Berlin.

Prime Minister Édouard Philippe studied in the former West German capital Bonn, while his new chief diplomatic advisor Philippe Étienne was French ambassador in Berlin, and Mr. Macron’s ally Sylvie Goulard has close connections to the Christian Democratic Union and takes part regularly in television discussion rounds in Germany. The new general secretary in the presidential palace, Alexis Kohler, and the advisor on Europe, Clément Beaune, both have a good understanding of German and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire is a known quantity in Berlin from his work with previous governments.

For Mr. Macron, working with Germany could mean breaking the deadlock on how to restructure the 19-nation euro currency union. His ideas include greater federalism in the euro zone, including a shared budget for public goods, an economics and finance minister and a euro zone parliament.

Germany is responding with Operation Macron. The goal is a reform that satisfies the French without scaring German voters too much. That in itself marks a change: So far, Berlin had tried to avoid this debate, fearing it will mean paying more and concerned, for example, about French calls for Germany to use its fiscal capacity to boost domestic demand, which would bring down its current account surplus. French leaders have made such calls in the past, but were regularly rejected. Former presidents like Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande “came to Berlin in an airplane and went home in a bus,” as one senior German official put it, with evident regret.

Now, though, the German government knows too much is at stake. If Mr. Macron fails, France could sink into chaos or fall to far-right populist Marine Le Pen and the Front National. Plus, Germany is happy with the current situation: its economy is booming and unemployment is the lowest since reunification. And so, in Berlin, there is no longer the desire or intention to keep just saying “no.”

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