French President Emmanuel Macron is still waiting for German Chancellor Angela Merkel to get back to him about his EU reform proposals. It's high time for her to deliver an answer, argues DW's Fabian von der Mark.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel owes French President Emmanuel Macron two answers: a political answer to his European initiative and an emotional answer to his passionate enthusiasm for Europe. So far, Merkel has offered neither. In failing to do so, she risks missing the opportunity to crown her chancellorship with a major Franco-German European project.
Of course, Europe will wait in vain if it expects Merkel to mirror Macron's emotional enthusiasm. How could she with such a partner: A young hero who campaigned without the backing of an established party, defying the dark forces of nationalism and putting his cards on a European Union that had been written off by many. A man who, after his surprise victory, addressed his compatriots to the sounds of the European anthem and promised something great, new and wonderful.
If Merkel sought to give a reply in kind, she would have to appear before a Brandenburg Gate illuminated in blue and yellow and call out to EU-flag-waving youths: "Europe is our chance, our future, our fortune!" Unimaginable.
Such pathos is simply not what Angela Merkel is known for, and after 12 years in power, it is not something she could convincingly sell. She is cognizant of that, and therefore she is all too willing to leave the job of EU renewal to the charismatic young Macron. That is why in her laudatory speech for her friend Macron at this week's Charlemagne Prize ceremony she acknowledged that Europe needs Macron's passion, his enthusiasm and his inspiration. She was less enthusiastic about whether it needs an EU finance minister, an EU banking guarantee or EU fiscal transfers.
A Merkel offensive against populists
When Angela Merkel formulates her ideas about Europe's future she tends to play it safe: She wants control of immigration to Europe to be more efficient, she wants to deal with European security, and she wants to represent Europe as a powerful player on the world stage. She knows she not only has Macron's support on those points but also the support of most Europeans — and most Germans. According to a recent national poll conducted by German broadcaster ARD, some 82 percent of Germans support Macron's ideas for reforming the EU, but 48 percent say his proposal for a more closely coordinated EU fiscal policy goes too far.
It's the old worry held by many Germans that their hard-earned cash will be frivolously thrown out the windows in Rome, Madrid or Athens. Of course, Angela Merkel is well aware of prejudices against financial compensation within the EU — not least, from within her own conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). But the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) has also joined that chorus by branding the concept of transfer payments within the EU as the "transfer union." Merkel should go on the offensive to take apart that battle cry and explain just how those transfers have worked over the years.
Macron and Merkel must march together
World champion exporter Germany has benefited from the EU. It no longer has to deal with annoying tariffs, turbulent exchange rates and bottlenecks at European borders. Germany has also profited greatly from the success, growth and stability that can be found throughout the bloc. That is something Germany should stand up in support of — or, as the German EU Commissioner Günther Oettinger put it: "You cannot simply export S-Class automobiles and then say Europe is not my concern."
The conservative German politician is in agreement with Macron on that point. In an interview with DW this week, the French president called for Germans to get over their issues with the concept of fiscal transfers. Angela Merkel could reply by taking a great step toward making Europe more cohesive and stable — if not now, when?
The chancellor has demanded a lot from her EU partners with her immigration and austerity policies. And now, with Macron's help, she has the chance to become a great European — a generous power broker who will help lead Europe to a brighter future at the side of a charismatic visionary. Merkel and Macron could one day echo historic Franco-German partnerships, like that between Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and President Charles de Gaulle in the 50s and 60s, or Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterrand a few decades later.
Yet today, the German is letting the Frenchman and the rest of Europe wait until the upcoming EU summit in June for a sign. But then, at the latest, she will have to give the right answers for herself, her country and for the EU.