French president Emmanuel Macron finally visited Angela Merkel in Berlin today (April 19) to get things rolling on his European reform proposals.
First stop was the building site of the new city palace—a fitting backdrop, since Macron wants to rebuild a better EU, and the German chancellor is trying to build consensus among her obstinate conservative bloc on how far Berlin is willing to go to back him.
Macron presented his European vision to the EU parliament in Strasbourg this week, with a plea for “EU-wide sovereignty.” He wants complete reform of the EU banking system, a dedicated EU finance minister, and to transform the EU bailout fund into a European Monetary Fund that would aid member states.
Merkel told reporters that Europe could only achieve its interests together, adding “we need an open debate and, in the end, the ability to compromise.” Still, she looks set to trim Macron’s ambitions to fit the demands of her government.
The chancellor, now in her fourth term and weakened by a disappointing election result for her Christian Democratic Union and six months of coalition negotiations, is grappling with a belligerent sister party, the Christian Social Union. CSU leader Horst Seehofer is determined to move the party further right and re-capture the voters it lost to the far-right Alternative for Germany.
Opposition to Macron’s plans is already vocal in Berlin. Senior CSU leader Alexander Dobrindt said: “We are opposed to an EU finance minister.” CDU parliamentarian Ralph Brinkhaus asked: “Why should the euro zone, in addition to the European Union, have an extra budget?”
Yesterday, Merkel told lawmakers from her CDU/CSU alliance that she wasn’t against a European Monetary Fund, but that it may require a new EU treaty and approval by national parliaments—a long, painful process. The parties also demanded that Germany have the right to impose tough conditions on how the current EU bailout fund would be transformed.
Macron has much work to do courting Berlin before the big EU summit in June, because without Germany, his reforms simply won’t succeed.