Sophia BeschResearch fellow at the Centre for European Reform
It is premature to talk about the engine floundering. The hype around the couple will be tested once a new German government is in place.
Some skepticism is appropriate:
On the eurozone, Germans are wary that the long-term fixes advocated by Paris would encourage fiscally irresponsible behavior. Macron hopes that his plan to reduce deficits will placate Germany. But the real risk is that Berlin will opt for “reforms in name only,” creating another set of halfway houses—a powerless eurozone finance minister and an inconsequential budget—that would not just be a wasted opportunity, but further erode the union’s credibility.
On defense, the French sense an opportunity to get serious about European strategic autonomy, but they also fear (rightly) a “Germanisation” of EU defense, and a focus on inclusivity and structures, rather than operations.
Berlin is not the only risk factor: Paris could fall short of expectations as well. Domestic reform will have to be a priority for Macron. His European vision may just prove to be unsustainable European escapism from the challenges at home.
The real question is what the Franco-German engine can achieve. Macron embraces a more flexible EU, where a liberal core integrates further. He has so far failed to alleviate fears among some member states of an exclusionist union. Europe cannot progress without France and Germany, but agreement in Paris and Berlin may not be sufficient to rescue the EU.
Fraser CameronDirector of the EU-Asia Centre
It is stuttering rather than floundering. The basic tenet of the EU has always been a flourishing Franco-German alliance. This starts at the top—think of Schmidt and Giscard, Kohl and Mitterrand. But Merkel struggled to find a rapport with Sarkozy and Hollande, partly due to differences over reactions to the eurozone debt crisis.
Now there is a new opportunity for Merkel and Macron to provide some momentum to the stuttering Franco-German entente. This will partly depend on the compromises needed to bring the Jamaica coalition into being, and partly on the willingness of Paris and Berlin to agree on how to move forward on key issues such as migration, banking union, and defense. If the two partners cannot get their act together the EU will suffer.
Anne-Sylvaine ChassanyParis bureau chief for the Financial Times
Six months after Emmanuel Macron’s election, the Franco-German motor is no longer roaring, but it is still purring. Expectations were set high as Angela Merkel first signaled a willingness to back the French leader’s integrationist push, going as far as considering a “small” budget for the eurozone—a French proposal that Germany has long resisted.
Since the setback of her party in general elections, Paris reckons that the German chancellor will be politically constrained by the FDP, her coalition partner, which opposes any form of risk sharing. Little progress, therefore, is expected on the eurozone, until the next EU legislature in 2019. Aware of these limitations, Macron is seeking to rally supporters across Europe, with the goal to form a new group in EU Parliament and acquire some democratic legitimacy for his plan. But in the meantime, the president is getting a German nod on defense, trade, posted workers, taxation of U.S. tech groups, and the idea that the EU needs to be “more protective” of its industries.
All hope is not lost on the eurozone: Merkel will eventually want to strike a compromise to satisfy the politician who defeated far-right leader Marine Le Pen and is determined, at last, to reform France.
Henrik EnderleinProfessor of political economy at the Hertie School of Governance and director of the Jacques Delors Institut in Berlin
As time goes by, it’s still the same old story. France and Germany are strong on symbols, OK on dialogue, and weak on action. Macron’s election could have changed this: his proposals on deepening the eurozone, on defense cooperation, on EU asylum and migration policies (to name just a few, do read his Sorbonne speech) call for true Franco-German action.
The problem is timing. French elections were followed by German elections. Now, the German government will not be fully operational before spring 2018. But it will be divided. Even if Merkel wanted to cooperate with Macron, she would still likely be slowed down by internal disagreement in her coalition and joint decision traps.
Come fall 2018, things will heat up dramatically in Europe. Brexit will need to be settled. Merkel will face tough regional elections in Bavaria. And then all eyes will be on the European Parliament campaign, which will be a challenge for Macron, whose party doesn’t fit into the pan-European “Spitzenkandidaten” logic. So the window of opportunity for true Franco-German joint action is tiny—it’s limited to the summer of 2018.
Still, and against all odds, Macron and Merkel need to give it a try. They should agree on a common agenda for EU reform for implementation under the new EU Commission from summer 2019. Europe desperately needs a relaunch. Macron has provided the blueprint. Europe is waiting for Germany’s response. I’m confident it will work. Here’s looking at you, Berlin!
Federico FabbriniProfessor of European law and director of the Brexit Institute Dublin City University
It is often claimed that the Franco-German relationship has been the engine of European integration. This is less true in a union of 28 member states than it was in one of twelve or fewer. Moreover, recently, Franco-German relations have been anything but sweet, with Paris and Berlin at loggerheads over how to tackle the euro crisis, migration, and security.
Brexit and Macron’s victory have created an opportunity to rebalance the Franco-German relationship. Macron has articulated, for the first time in years, an ambitious French vision for the future of Europe; and following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, France will take on a more crucial role in EU foreign, security, and defense policy, balancing German hegemony in economic affairs.
Nevertheless, Macron’s plan for Economic and Monetary Union reform—entailing, among other aspects, the creation of a finance minister and a fiscal capacity—has been met with limited enthusiasm in Berlin, and Germany’s recent election has narrowed Merkel’s room for maneuver. Moreover, electoral instability in Italy and the Catalonian crisis have deprived France of effective support from Italy and Spain, the other two members of the “Versailles group.”
In this context, France should seek to build broad and inclusive alliances, both with other member states and with the EU institutions, to push its agenda forward. At the same time, Germany should reflect on whether it can afford to let Macron down today, at the risk of having to negotiate with Le Pen tomorrow, particularly considering the challenges that Brexit and Trump pose for the future of Europe.
Morgan GuérinPolicy officer for Europe at the Institut Montaigne
In the post-Brexit context, France and Germany are finding themselves on their own and can no longer count on London, which was at times able to reconcile both cultural worlds. They have to learn how to function without its mediation. To do so, they must work on a common diagnosis of what happened since the introduction of the euro currency: only this will enable them to share a new economic strategy for the eurozone. Will they be able to come up with such a diagnosis of their recent history? On both sides of the Rhine, misunderstandings and unspoken resentments have piled up . . . Cultural differences alone do not account for diverging approaches between Paris and Berlin on the future of the eurozone. Does France have the same vision of Germany’s economic success as the Germans? Can the fact that France is stalling, compared to its great neighbor, only be explained by its budget management? And yet, the economy will not be the sole issue: security and defense are becoming increasingly central. Since Brexit, how does Germany perceive the strategic alliance formed between France and the UK, through the 2010 Lancaster House Agreements?
François HeisbourgSpecial adviser at the Foundation for Strategic Research
The Franco-German engine isn’t floundering; it is simply waiting for Godot. The French president presented his vision and laid out his markers with the Sorbonne speech days after the German election. He knows the German system well enough to understand that commitments can’t be secured during the negotiation of the Jamaica coalition contract: therefore nothing will happen until January at the earliest. The real question is whether the new German government will feel that it has an electoral mandate to transform the EU and the eurozone. Given the absence of any major debate on this theme during the German electoral campaign, the answer may not be the one Emmanuel Macron will want to hear.
However, there are several reasons not to despair. The four Jamaica partners have stressed the need to strengthen the Franco-German couple. Chancellor Merkel, on what is presumably her last term, may become more interested in her historical legacy. Macron, for his part, knows that his hand will strengthen as a function of the revival of the French economy, and he can afford to play a long game with no significant domestic elections before 2020. It will be difficult to say no to a France that will have ceased to be the sick man of Europe.
Jonas Parello-PlesnerSenior policy fellow at the Hudson Institute
Don’t worry: it is a temporary lull. The Franco-German engine will still be running—and kick-starting the EU. Patience is needed in forming a new German government. Getting to “Jamaica,” which entails fitting both the FDP and the Greens into a cohesive government, isn’t an easy task—even with ever steady Merkel at the helm.
When Germany is up and running, Merkel will deliver her response to Macron’s innovative ideas for Europe, as outlined in his Sorbonne speech. As the German chancellor stated prior to the speech: “We can use more Europe, but this has to lead to more competitiveness, more jobs.” Some of Macron’s economic proposals, such as a eurozone minister (just one more expensive Eurocrat, some negative voices might say), may not stand a German test for genuine added value.
Adding the FDP into the new German government means a continued tough line on budget discipline. Macron must show that he can deliver on his internal reforms—which seem well underway—to secure German support for his proposals.
Merkel is also likely to make sure that new measures knit the EU 27 together (much needed with Brexit looming) and that the interests of smaller and non-eurozone countries are looked after. This may put a little bit of a brake on Macron’s wish to move ahead in smaller circles inside the euro and on defense.
The EU needs both Macron’s exuberance for more Europe and Merkel’s pragmatic step-by-step method. Together they will make an interesting duo for European integration.
Andreas Rinke Chief Berlin political correspondent for Reuters
The Franco-German engine is not floundering—quite the contrary. Never before has a relationship between a new French president and a German chancellor started as smoothly as the one between Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel. There are several reasons: they’ve known each other since 2013; they share the conviction that the EU needs some more energetic reforms; Merkel and Macron are close in their economic thinking; and they share the same challenges in the EU e.g. Brexit.
There are two reasons why it is premature to judge the German reaction to Macron’s proposals. First: Macron has already experienced a hostile reception in the EU to some of his ideas, like a big eurozone budget, and he is already changing them himself. Second: during coalition talks in Berlin, Merkel cannot position herself clearly to the proposals. But it is important to notice that all four parties involved have already agreed on the desire to form a special Franco-German alliance.
That does not mean that a new German “Jamaica” government will support all ideas coming from Paris. There will be the typical German insistence on keeping a balance between responsibility, risk, and solidarity in EU politics. But the willingness to work very closely with Macron is overwhelming.
Stephen SzaboResident senior fellow at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies
The Franco-German engine is currently in the shop for what will either be a tune up or a major rebuild. French President Macron has offered his ideas and support for a major renovation, but he will have to wait until early next year to get a response from Angela Merkel who will be preoccupied for the next two months assembling a new coalition.
The prospects are for a minor tune up, given that Merkel is in a weaker position than she was before the September election. A Jamaica coalition will be, in essence, a four party government (counting the Bavarian CSU as a separate party) that will find it difficult to go beyond the lowest common denominator in shaping policy. The liberal Free Democrat Party will block major initiatives involving the eurozone, putting a damper on Macron’s hopes for a fiscal union.
There is more hope for movement on developing deeper security cooperation, as the Christian Democrats should be able to continue to increase defense spending and begin to develop a larger strategic role for Germany and the Franco-German couple. There will be movement on controlling immigration and refugee flows including border security, but not much more.
Pierre VimontSenior fellow at Carnegie Europe
The Franco-German partnership has never been an easy ride. On the contrary, history shows that Germany and France have traditionally followed a pattern whereby both sides start from totally opposite positions and move progressively, not without pain, to finally reach an agreement. The process is always laborious and not particularly apt for quick deliverables. The decision to go ahead with the single European currency is but one illustration of the fact that the Franco-German tandem is a slow engine. It does not fit in the narrative of our modern times where instant delivery is the name of the game.
More importantly, to be successful this partnership needs to fulfil two conditions. First, it requires, from the start, a strong commitment from Berlin and Paris to achieve, at whatever the cost, a solid compromise acceptable for both sides. The French call this an “obligation of result.” Second, from that bilateral deal the Franco-German tandem must be able to carry along enough union members to make it into a European agreement. These two essential elements were always there in the past. Are they still here today? This is where the test of success for the tandem will lie in the months ahead.
Sarah WolffDirector of the Centre for European Research and lecturer at Queen Mary University of London and senior associate fellow at the Netherlands Institute for International Relations (Clingendael)
Plans about the future of Europe are made possible with the perspective of Brexit, and that’s a positive thing. Macron’s bold proposition to have a parliament and a finance minister of the eurozone would enable further, although multispeed, integration. The creation of a European Monetary Fund to replace the European Stability Mechanism would bring Europe toward more fiscal federalism, a proposition that would only be acceptable to Germany if France undergoes necessary structural reforms to fight unemployment.
The extent of the compromise needed between France and Germany is indeed considerable. Domestic politics in Germany will be a strong indicator of that possibility. Merkel’s lukewarm reaction to Macron’s proposal is linked to the difficulties of forming a coalition government. Her potential partners do not seem to agree on much. Negotiations on Europe have been heated and the FDP are against Macrons’ proposition to reform the eurozone.
However, in the medium-run, Merkel’s and Macron’s destinies are inextricably intertwined. As astute political leaders, they understand the risks that failing to reform Europe would mean for domestic politics: the rise of Euroskepticism and a possible strengthening of the AfD and the National Front.
Brexit negotiations are a nonissue for the two countries. However, a nondecision on the future of Europe would be too costly for both. Germany needs France to avoid being perceived as the hegemon of austerity politics in Europe, while France needs Germany to continue to drive political integration.