Macron to Merkel: Im still out to change Europe
Emmanuel Macron isnt giving up his ambitious visions for Europe — no matter what Germany thinks.
The French president delivered this message in Aachen, a city in western Germany, with the principal block to his reform agenda — Chancellor Angela Merkel — looking on. Here was a vivid example of Macrons ability to use prominent media stages to push his ideas on a skeptical audience, as he did during his underdog run for the French presidency last year.
But the realities of European politics give Merkel — who introduced the visiting Frenchman effusively — and Berlin the upper hand in this ongoing sparring match with the young, new leader in Paris. An economically robust Germany is the dominant power in the EU. And while Merkel has made a public show of her enthusiasm for Macron personally and for the fresh direction that France has taken domestically, she hasnt indicated any willingness to back his most audacious ideas for EU reform — particularly those that are bound to put German taxpayers on the hook for others in the club.
Macron didnt sound deterred by the pushback from Berlin in recent months. In a speech to accept the Charlemagne Prize, the French president laid out four commandments for Europe — “Lets not be weak, lets not be divided, lets not fear, lets not wait” — before reiterating his now familiar ideas for reforming the EU and the eurozone. Macron wants to create a eurozone finance minister with the power of the purse and a large rainy-day fund for eurozone countries hit by financial crisis; Berlin is cool on both.
“Europe is Utopia … [but] utopists are pragmatists, and realists” — Emmanuel Macron
The French president appealed with what some heard as a backhanded compliment to his hosts: “Some in France tell me Germany is selfish and doesnt want to reform Europe. I know this isnt true,” he said.
To German opponents of his proposals he added: “Wake up, France has changed.”
In Merkels footsteps
The Charlemagne Prize has been awarded by the city of Aachen annually since 1950 “for work done in the service of European unification.” Previous laureates include Pope Francis, European Council President Donald Tusk, former European Parliament President Simone Veil and Merkel herself.
In their citation for the prize, the prizes board of directors wrote: “On the offensive like very few others, President Macron has made the European idea the focus of his political commitment; on the offensive like very few others, he has sought confrontation with those who would question the project that has brought our Continent the longest period of peace in its entire history.”
The French president argued that Europe must seize its own destiny and not let others decide its economic, security and climate future. “We have in front of us a big menace,” Macron said. “The question posed to us now is whether we want to take it, accept others rules or whether we want to choose for ourselves, for a European sovereignty.”
Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron on the balcony of the town hall of Aachen after Macron received the International Charlemagne Prize at a ceremony on May 10, 2018 in Aachen, Germany | Lukas Schulze/Getty Images
In a familiar note that sounds sour to some countries, Macron reaffirmed his support for a “multispeed Europe.” This could see a core group of nations, like France and Germany, move ahead on European integration in a way that makes the leaders in Poland or Sweden, for example, uncomfortable. “I dont believe in Europe perpetually waiting for 27 countries to agree before moving forward,” he said.
In another thinly veiled dig at Eastern European countries that have opposed Brussels on migration and pushed back against criticism over their alleged backsliding on rule of law, Macron called out the “music of nationalism [that] is resounding everywhere in Europe,” adding that division is “like leprosy.”
“Barbed wire reappears everywhere in Europe, including in the minds,” he cautioned, adding that he would “yield nothing” in the fight with Hungary and Poland over European values.
But the French president concluded on an upbeat note. “Lets not celebrate yesterdays symphonies. Lets write a new musical score,” he said, adding, “Europe is Utopia … [but] utopists are pragmatists, and realists”
Pierre Briançon in Paris contributed to this article.