For a long time the real power in the European Union, though hidden behind by high-sounding concepts like ‘more Europe,’ ‘solidarity’ and less sovereignty for the hoi polloi (read Eastern Europe) nations, as in majority rather than unanimous voting. All of this was based on a putative French-German agreement about the key issues of the alliance, which, more often than not, has been based on an assumed rather than real unanimity of views by the two major powers in continental Europe. As if to allay their own doubts and those of the Euro-sceptics about this, Germany and France moved to sign the Aachen Treaty in early 2019. A treaty that conjures up a bipolar domination of Europe that few outside of these two countries would willingly subscribe to. This has become even more important now, as Brexit looms increasingly larger with Boris Johnson, a determined foe of the UK remaining in the EU, seemingly a shoe-in as the next prime-minister of Great Britain.
Yet, predictably, no sooner was all of this publicly advertised by Berlin and Paris and serious cracks in the edifice appeared to doom the entire enterprise. The problem is complicated because Merkel herself is very close to the socialistic predilections of Macron and has acted, if anything, as a member of the green party rather than the CDU. In recent years, she has outlawed nuclear power, instituted a radical green agenda and become a vocal opponent of US president Trump. Nonetheless, her powerbase is quite different from that of Macron and though it has certainly moved to the left, it is unlikely to sign up blindly to pay for Macron’s phantasies. And paying for Macron’s phantasies is what this is all about and has been from day one!
It is worth therefore to briefly enumerate Macron’s declared public agenda to realize that none of it is feasible without the Germans as the paymaster of the EU agreeing to it. Among the announced Macron publicly-stated objectives is the consolidation of European spending into a common EU budget, headed by an EU minister of finance and the issuance of common EU bonds. Further down the line, Macron sees doing away with the current principle of unanimous approval of major legislation to be replaced by ‘qualified majority’ i.e. Germany and France, and ‘harmonizing’ EU taxes at the high Western European levels and, thus, doing away with foreign investment competition from Eastern Europe. Needless to say these goals are less than welcome in Eastern Europe and not only. Recently eight northern European countries have slammed Macron’s plans as unrealistic and the prime-minister of the Netherlands has described the EU budget idea as ‘dead on arrival.’
All of this was in the realm of policy theory until Macron started openly criticizing Germany for its policies. Not that they cannot stand criticism and the author of these lines has done a lot of it over the years, but what Macron did was focus on the areas where German policies were actually correct. One of those was the German position on the Spitzencandidat issue. This was an area coordinated quite a while ago between the European powers and it simply meant that the major political parties would agree to nominate a leading party candidate and that person would then fight with others for nomination to key positions depending on how well he or she did at the elections. This was the principle on which Jean-Claude Juncker was elected in 2014 without any controversy and it was a big surprise European when Macron in the last minute raised objections to Manfred Weber, the German Spizencandidat, for European Commission boss, ostensibly because of his lack of government experience. Given that Macron has also clearly expressed his preference for French socialist Michel Barnier for the job of head of the European Commission, this smacked strongly of anti-German bias and put Merkel in a difficult position. This ostensible bias was reinforced by Macron making fun of the head of the Bundesbank and candidate to replace Mario Draghi, Jens Weidmann. On another front, Macron has also criticized Germany for using non-market methods in dealing with other EU states – a stand strongly reminiscent of Le Pen’s critique of German trade policies.
None of this means that France and Germany are on the verge of a conflict, but it is already clear that their relations are far from idyllic, as some had hoped. Those that believed that after Brexit, the EU will easily coalesce behind Franco-German leadership are likely to be disappointed.
By Alex Alexiev