There is not much news from home about Brexit because of the election next week. However, things progress on the Continent. First, it is interesting that the ECJ has decided that it is not necessary for all 34 national and regional parliaments to approve the trade agreement with Singapore, QMV will do. This has implications for the UK’s trade negotiation which will not need to be tied up in interminable debates by all these assemblies and perhaps be rejected, like Canada’s FTA (rejected by Wallonia which was, of course, forced to comply but did cause a delay).
Meanwhile, back to Berlin where, further to our post on Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Berlin (see France, Germany and EU) we can now report, with the help of EU Observer (https://euobserver.com/political/137915 ) that there are more signs of increasing readiness on the part of Germany, or at least of Chancellor Merkel, to accommodate Macron’s wish to deepen economic and monetary union.
On 15 May the two leaders pledged to re-launch the partnership between France and Germany in order to ‘reconstruct’ the EU.
“We agreed that we want to develop a roadmap for the European Union’s medium-term perspectives,” chancellor Angela Merkel said in a joint news conference with president Emmanuel Macron in Berlin. She added that the two leaders should think of how to ‘deepen’ and ‘strengthen’ the EU and the eurozone. They plan to hold a joint ministerial meeting in July to work on common proposals to reform the EU.
Mrs Merkel confirmed that she would be willing to change the EU treaties if that would be useful and insisted that the EU would be ‘vulnerable’ if it refused to amend its existing rules.
We will look more closely at those ‘existing rules’ in a future post (meanwhile see Trick or Treaty for an outline) but in this post we will look at some of the implications of this sudden resurgence of camaraderie.
Our first reaction is to wonder if a refreshed French-German axis would be able to usurp the power vested in the EU to propose treaty change. Perhaps the language, in front of international reporters, was intended more to raise hopes of reform than to propose a take-over over of the European Commission’s area of competence. Or maybe the language reveals the assumption that Germany and France are the two key powers in the Union and that therefore whatever they jointly propose is most likely to be agreed, at least by EU leaders if not by all member states. The proposals for reforms – apart from any suggestion of treaty change – are in line with EU ambitions as described in the Five Presidents Report from 2015.
Then again, treaty change is something that Angela Merkel had ruled out only a few days before the meeting so either she has changed her mind or she has decided to put some wind in Macron’s sails as he leads into his attempts to reform France and bring it into line with the EU’s existing rules. She did after all only agree to treaty change “if it is useful”. We note that the existing rules focus on managing deficits and no one is mentioning Germany’s illegal surpluses.
Macron himself said that treaty change is “no longer a French taboo”. We didn’t know that it had been taboo to discuss treaty change in France; Macron has been doing so for quite some time. Perhaps with this remark he was seeking some acknowledgement that it is also no longer a German taboo, in which case he got the answer he wanted, whether true or not.
However, there is strong resistance to treaty change, not least from the EU as their ambitions for Europe-wide governance are built in to their treaties, which fulfil the role of a constitution (see Trick or Treaty). Even if France and Germany come to an agreement on what treaty changes would be “useful”, which is far from certain, they would have to win the approval of the European Commission, the European Council, possibly the European Parliament and certainly unanimous approval from the 27 member states. To describe this as ‘daunting’ would be an understatement.
The two leaders pledged that they would cooperate closely even if they won’t always agree. “Germany’s interests are closely linked to France’s interests,” Merkel noted. “Europe is well only if there is a strong France“. Apart from, as usual, conflating the EU with Europe, this statement supports the supposition that the press briefing at which this and other remarks quoted were made was as much a public relations exercise as anything else. Both leaders will expect to benefit from promoting the idea that France and Germany are cooperating without reservation. Or at least they would expect to lose votes if they publicised their traditional rivalry.