Macron, Merkel seek common approaches to Trump, euro

Macron, Merkel seek common approaches to Trump, euro
At home and abroad, Emmanuel Macron ploughs lonely furrow
President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel, both limping in the polls, are looking for common approaches to U.S. President Donald Trump and fixing the flaws in the euro currency.

The two need a little mutual support right now given their respective political shakiness at home as Macron visits Sunday to take part in Germanys annual remembrance day for victims of war and dictatorship and then for talks with Merkel. Macron has seen his poll ratings sag at home and Merkel has been a lame duck since saying she wouldnt seek another term. Her conservative party has lost support in recent regional elections.

Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel attemd wreath-laying ceremony

Merkel has offered support for Macrons proposal for a European army, in the face of criticism from Trump. Both leaders have said Europe needs to depend less on others — such as the U.S. — for its defence. Its at least in part a response to Trumps disruption of the status quo in the NATO alliance by raising doubts about U.S. willingness to pay for other countries defence.

German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen insisted that a joint military force would need not just common equipment and training but also the political will to resolutely defend European interests when a conflict breaks out. 

But ceremonial appearances and good words cant paper over persistent differences between their approaches to the European Unions economic issues.

Frances Minister for European Affairs, Nathalie Loiseau, told the Journal du Dimanche: It is not a question of being against the United States but of taking our destiny into our own hands to no longer count on others. 

For example, Germany and France have apparently struck a deal on a common budget for the EU countries that use the shared euro currency, something Macron has been pushing for. German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told the dpa news agency that the deal was to be presented to European finance ministers on Monday, and that he hoped it would find agreement.

Macron and Merkel follow an usher as they arrive for a ceremony joined by the former inspector general of the German armed forces Bundeswehr Wolfgang Schneiderhan and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier

But the size of the budget — mentioned by French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire as 20 to 25 billion euros — is far short of Macrons idea. The amount is only 0.2 per cent of the eurozone economy, far short of the several percentage points of gross domestic product originally mentioned by Macron. The compromise underscores German reluctance to sign off on anything seen as transferring taxpayer money from richer countries like Germany to more fiscally shaky ones such as Italy or Greece.

Macron is visiting as both he and Merkel are lagging in the polls and need some mutual reinforcement and support, as they look for common approaches to Donald Trump and fixing the flaws in the euro currency.

The two sides have also not agreed on a tax on digital companies such as Amazon and Google. The French and the European Commission have proposed imposing such a tax, but Scholz said the issue should be left with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a forum of mostly developed nations. Since the OECD includes the US, and such a tax would hit U.S. tech companies, prospects for a deal there are less than clear.

She has vowed to serve out her fourth term, which runs until 2021, but many observers expect Merkel could be brought down earlier by infighting within the CDU or the unhappy three-party coalition she leads.

Video: Macron, Merkel pay respects at Berlin war memorial

Macron was to speak in the German parliament Sunday on an annual day of remembrance for victims of war and dictatorship, a week after the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, and then consults with Merkel on European and international issues.

Macron and Merkel are joined by Roth, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the President of the Bundesrat Daniel Guenther and the President of the Federal Constitutional court Andreas Vosskuhle

Merkel last week echoed Macrons call in an interview for a European army, a long-term prospect that drew tweeted criticism of Macron from Trump. Macron in fact was advocating that Europe do more for its own defence, putting him on the same page in many ways with Trump. At another point in the interview, Macron discussed hacking and other cyber threats and asserted that on that front, France must protect itself from China, Russia and even the United States. His concern about U.S. hackers had nothing to do with military threats or forces but drew an angry tweet from Trump regardless.

The joint army plan, too, faces tricky challenges, including post-war Germanys traditional reluctance to send combat troops abroad and the fact that parliament must approve military missions. 

Merkel said a European force would save money and agreed with Macron that Europe must be able to defend itself on its own. Despite the words of support, such a common army remains only a long-term prospect.

Macron and Merkel are both committed pro-Europeans who have resisted rising populist, euro-sceptic, and anti-immigration forces in Europe, as well as Trumps isolationist America First stance.

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And Merkel, after 13 years in power, has in recent weeks announced the beginning of the end of her reign by declining to stand again as leader of her centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU).

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There is much frustration in Paris about Merkels perceived foot-dragging on Macrons bold reform plans, especially on forging a eurozone with a major common budget and finance minister.

As last weekends gathering of more than 60 foreign leaders at armistice services and a peace forum in Paris showed, Macron – Frances youngest leader since Napoleon – is not without ambition on the world stage. Le Figaro suggested the elaborate ceremonies marked the start of an intense French global diplomatic offensive in support of democratic, humanitarian and multilateralist values.

Macron has backed events to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – Human Rights Day is on 10 December – and is preparing to use Frances 2019 presidency of the G7 to advance what he deems a progressive, internationalist agenda. He views Mays EU parliamentary elections as crucial to stemming Europes populist tide, and will actively campaign.

Since a Franco-German joint cabinet meeting on Europe in June, challenges have piled up with Brexit nearing and a budget conflict escalating between Brussels and Italy. 

Macron has already served notice on Viktor Orbán, Hungarys anti-immigrant, anti-EU prime minister who was re-elected in a landslide earlier this year, that his ideas about illiberal democracy cannot stand. He has also targeted Matteo Salvini, Italys far-right deputy prime minister. Nationalism and hate were spreading like leprosy all around Europe, he declared last summer.

As the world has remembered World War I, Macron has repeatedly invoked its horrors to drive home the message that rising nationalism is again destabilising the world.  

Such a robust defence of Europes postwar social democratic order goes down well with centrist voters in countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, where moderate parties of left and right have lost electoral ground. Macron frankly reviles Frances Rassemblement National (formerly the Front National) and Germanys anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland.

Macron spoke in the German parliament in Berlin today on the annual day of remembrance, a week after the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, and then consulted

But the issue is not as clear-cut as his fans might pretend. Europes mainstream centre of gravity has shifted palpably to the right following the 2008 financial crash and large-scale refugee influxes. Orbán has many allies among Polish, Czech and Slovak nationalists. His views are echoed in Sebastian Kurzs Austrian coalition, which includes the once-banned far-right Freedom party, and on the fringes of Angela Merkels ruling CDU-CSU alliance in Berlin. Enduring support for Brexit in Britain reflects this shift.

Orbán has helped create a new normal inside the EU, a situation in which the bloc faces a choice between trying to force illiberal governments to toe some sort of liberal line and compromising with them as an acceptable reality. There are indications the Brussels bureaucracy may be going for the latter option, wrote Bloomberg analyst Leonid Bershidsky.

Macrons attempt to play Europes champion is further undermined by claims that he is not quite the progressive he likes to appear. His own record on immigration is mixed, featuring border spats with Italy and Spain. His critics say he, too, harbours a haughty, authoritarian streak and that his neoliberal economic policies favour the better-off. Thanks largely to Merkels slow eclipse and Italys fiscal rebellion, his vaunted eurozone reforms appear dead on arrival.

Emmanuel Macron stood with folded hands and bowed head alongside the German Chancellor and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the Neue Wache memorial in Berlin

Macrons one-man crusade to save multilateralism and the rules-based international order, while praiseworthy in principle, looks similarly ill-timed – and ill-fated. His attempts to seduce the arch-nationalist and protectionist Donald Trump with a mix of Gallic charm and straight-talking seemed to work for a while. The two engaged in an embarrassing love-in at last years Bastille Day parade.

But all Macrons wooing – he was dubbed the Trump whisperer – failed to shift Trump on key issues such as climate change, Iran, and trade tariffs. Last weekend, Macron lambasted America First-style nationalism, as Trump looked on stonily. Suddenly, the bromance was over. Caustic Tweets mocking Frances wartime record and jibes saying Trump lacked common decency ensued.

The trouble is, where Trump leads, the worlds current crop of like-minded authoritarian leaders, from Russia and China to Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, follows. Macron may be in the right. He certainly has history on his side. But is that enough? Abroad, as at home, he is treading a lonely path.