The French president's urgent demands for EU reform could well be slowed down when he visits Berlin this week. Angela Merkel's conservatives are not on board with his plans to expand the bloc's bailout program.
French President Emmanuel Macron is unleashing his plans for European Union reform this week with a two-pronged attack — Tuesday's big speech in the European Parliament in Strasbourg will be followed up by a visit to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Thursday.
His zeal was greeted with enthusiastic applause in front of his "home" crowd in the French city, but the away leg in Berlin is likely to be much trickier. Though Merkel's greeting will be warm enough, it became clear this week that her style will be cramped by domestic pressure — for her own party, the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), is not nearly as enthusiastic about EU reform as Macron.
On Monday night, CDU General Secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer emerged from a meeting of party committees to tell reporters that there were indeed differences—- especially about Macron's plans (shared by the European Commission) to expand and enhance the EU's bailout system, aka the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). It provides emergency relief for member states in sudden financial straits. The thinly-veiled concern: that German taxpayers' money would leak out of Germany.
In the days ahead of Thursday's meeting, it seemed like the CDU parliamentary party was making a concerted attempt to limit Merkel's elbow room in negotiations with Macron. This even irritated European policy makers on her side, such as CDU European Parliamentary veteran Elmar Brok, who told the daily Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung that Macron's proposals should not simply be "wiped from the table." Merkel needed to be given the freedom "to negotiate compromises with Macron," he added.
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Hold those horses, Emmanuel
Similarly, the CDU is not entirely on board with Macron's plans for a eurozone budget or a "monetary fund," that will provide bailout services independent of the European Commission. According to Kramp-Karrenbauer, the party thinks EU finances need to be discussed and regulated anew first, especially in light of the UK's impending exit.
There were similar reservations from the Christian Social Union (CSU), the CDU's traditionally even more conservative Bavarian sister party. Echoing the CDU's reticent noises, CSU parliamentary leader Alexander Dobrindt expressed skepticism about Macron's proposal to create an EU Finance Ministry.
"That's definitely not something that needs to be decided now," Dobrindt said, and called instead for parties to slow down and concentrate on the "essential proposals" first, in time for an all-important EU summit in June. He was also against other Macron ideas that sounded too radical, such as an EU-wide unemployment benefit.
Even Finance Minister Olaf Scholz — the most prominent member of center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), the junior member of Merkel's coalition government — expressed some reluctance about Macron's plans at the weekend, though on Tuesday his party was keen to paint the conservatives as the obstacles to EU reform.
"In his speech before the European Parliament, French President Macron rightly called for urgency in the upcoming reform of the EU," SPD deputy parliamentary leader Achim Post said in a statement. "The blockading attitude of the CDU/CSU will not meet the challenges of Europe. In order to strengthen the trust of people in Europe, the EU must become better able to act to deal with the great tasks of our time."
Post's counterpart in the opposition Green party, Anton Hofreiter, was more scathing. In a statement offering Macron "our unambiguous support," the Green parliamentary leader said that "a European monetary fund, a strong security against crises, and a European banking union are central lessons from the banking and financial crises of the last decade."
"If the CDU/CSU and the SPD don't face up to their European responsibility, this government will become a risk to the European system, instead of making Europe safer from crises," he added. "The historical project of Europe must not fail because of this government's national egoism and party-political mediocrity."
But old Merkel allies in the CDU were keen to smooth the edges ahead of Thursday's meeting between the two government leaders. Norbert Röttgen, a former Merkel cabinet minister and now chairman of the Bundestag's foreign relations committee, told DW that he expected Merkel and Macron to present a united front on how to bring Europe together and take the alliance forward. "We live in a time that is getting more chaotic and more dangerous — everyone is feeling it, that is the situation," he said. "And in this time we need Europe."
He also had conciliatory words to offer about those recalcitrant party colleagues who had expressed reservations about Macron's reforms. "It's the responsibility of German lawmakers to keep an eye on the taxes of German taxpayers, and to make sure it was spent on the right things," he said.