Will Merkel pull the brakes on Macron's reforms?

French President Emmanuel Macron stressed the need for EU reform during his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Thursday. The latter agreed to put together a compromise on the reforms by the middle of the year despite glaring differences of opinion. Journalists speculate on the reasons for Merkel's reticence.

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Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Merkel under pressure from her party

When Merkel met Macron for the first time just a year ago she enthusiastically quoted Herman Hesse, saying 'jedem Anfang wohnt ein Zauber inne' (a magic dwells in each beginning). The magic is clearly over now, sneers the Berlin correspondent of the Corriere della Sera, Paolo Valentino:

“Because Merkel had never been under this kind of pressure from the CDU-CSU, who have set clear limits on how far she can go with reform in the Eurozone. So the internal front must be placated, which is why Merkel is insisting on national efforts and budgetary discipline. ... Almost as if she wanted to deflect from the contentious key issue, she skillfully held forth about other important EU reforms.”

taz, die tageszeitung (DE) /

All hopes of reform dashed

The German chancellor may not have actually snubbed Macron, but nor did she show any support for Macron's reform ideas, taz notes disappointedly:

“All we got from Merkel were platitudes. There are two currencies in EU politics: money and symbols. Merkel does not want to pay in the first and, since she understands politics as technocracy, she is unable to pay in the second. Meanwhile the SPD is just keeping its head down. The alarming thing is that Germany's pro-EU faction which does not believe that all Europe is only after our money has shrunk to a handful of Social Democrats, one or two Christian Democrats and the Greens. So any hope that Merkel might have been able to use the final stint of her chancellorship to ignore the grumbling within her own party and write herself into the history books as a far-sighted European is over.”

La Tribune (FR) /

Europe needs more balance

Macron should dedicate his efforts to fighting Germany's predominance in Europe, political scientist Jean-Christophe Gallien writes in La Tribune:

“It's like football last century: the Germans always win in the end. So we have a concrete demand for Emmanuel Macron, who wants to be Captain Europe and push through shared European interests in a balanced and more democratic Europe. To do this he needs a serious strategy for influencing all areas and all Europe, starting with the European Parliament, which should be treated with due respect and not like an assembly for catching up on election campaigns, or worse still, a home for early retirees.”

Magyar Hírlap (HU) /

Unrealistic and entirely lacking in innovation

The meeting between Macron and Merkel hasn't led to any new developments, Magyar Hírlap concludes:

“Merkel and Macron both agree that reorganising Europe's refugee policy is the top priority. Their plan is that in addition to the common defence of Europe's borders the refugees should be divided among the member states as an expression of 'internal solidarity'. From this we can see that the two strongest member states, along with the Brussels bureaucracy, are neither capable of recognising the reality of the situation nor of coming up with innovative solutions. And they only make compromises when a democratic government is strong enough to defend its national identity, culture and sovereignty against them.”

Der Standard (AT) /

The obstacles to any reform of the EU

There are good reasons why reform initiatives in the EU often come to nothing, Der Standard explains:

“The basic conflict persists: in view of the practical constraints, the states of Europe should be far more united because almost all the problems are transnational nowadays. The citizens' mood, however, points in the opposite direction. When despite this the EU takes action, people complain that the elites are governing without consulting the citizens. When it doesn't, Europe gets blamed for the unresolved problems. The Kurz government's eurosceptical spin is typical of this, but it's not much better elsewhere - including in France. And Macron's rhetoric won't do anything to solve this dilemma.”

Ilta-Sanomat (FI) /

Macron has the ideas, Merkel the red pen

Macron won't get any support from Merkel for his initiatives, Ilta-Sanomat predicts:

“The two will probably do their best to present themselves as a peaceable and harmonious team busy constructing the future. But Macron will have problems hiding his disappointment. The reform projects are advancing for the most part according to the usual pattern: Macron will present his long and ambitious list of measures and Merkel will take out her red pen and strike most of the more progressive initiatives from the agenda. ... She can do this indirectly by initially supporting them but then demanding that the EU treaties be amended before they can be implemented.”

Delo (SI) /

Cooperation between Paris and Berlin vital

It is vital for Europe that France and Germany show unity once more, Delo stresses:

“Russia and other non-liberal states are becoming more and more aggressive, and military confrontations are looming in the Middle East. Consequently Europe and the West need to be aware of the importance of the historical and cultural achievements of the continent that brought about both the First and Second World War. Nationalists in European states also refute the claim that the European Union is the main guarantor for peace and prosperity on the Old Continent. This makes the cooperation between centralist Germany and France all the more essential. Let us hope that the two reach sensible economic and political agreements.”

Le Monde (FR) /

A pro-European dynamic

Members of the European Parliament from various parties and countries who back Macron's initiative write in a guest commentary for Le Monde:

“The pro-European parties have not managed to come up with answers to questions posed by our fellow citizens regarding the purpose of the European institutions. Since they are unable to give Europe a vision or a human face, they have left it in the hands of those who seek its destruction. France is lucky to have a president who has placed Europe at the centre of his political activity. ... There can be no doubt that this has boosted pro-European sentiment. ... This dynamic must now continue to spread across Europe and put an end to the inexorable advance of the anti-Europeans.”

El Periódico de Catalunya (ES) /

Paris and Berlin have swapped roles

The EU reforms are no longer a priority for Berlin, El Periódico de Catalunya laments:

“You could say that the reformist impetus has changed sides and if until recently it was Germany that faced resistance from Paris, especially regarding the ceding of sovereignty to a federal Europe, now it is France that is willing to advance towards greater European sovereignty as a way to combat selfish nationalism and populism. Macron and Merkel will meet in Berlin tomorrow to agree on a joint stance, but there is little hope of that. After several months without a government the European project no longer seems to be a priority for Germany.”

Delo (SI) /

Shaky alliance partners

Delo doubts the French president will be able to push through his plans:

“In the European Parliament Macron has received plenty of praise but to realize his plans he'll need strong allies in Berlin and elsewhere. So far he has no one following his lead. On the contrary, doubts about his plans are growing in the northern camp. It's as if Macron's main front line - despite all his grand words about the EU - were in France. If he succeeds with his reforms at home he will be able to form more credible and effective alliances for a reform on the European stage. Waiting too long for more good will on the part of his European partners could prove frustrating for Macron.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Europhoric but alone

As long as Macron continues to ignore a number of member states he will have difficulty making progress with the reform of the EU, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung explains:

“If Macron wants to fight for European sovereignty, many people in Poland, Hungary, Italy and other countries won't see this as a fight for their interests, but against them. However, the French president doesn't seem to realise this. ... Many countries do not share Macron's EU integration euphoria. Concerns about national sovereignty and identity have gained ground in many places. Democracy is not just defined in Paris, Berlin and Brussels, but also in Warsaw, Budapest and Rome. If the EU wants to develop further, it must respect this diversity.”

Financial Times (GB) /

The end of the Paris-Berlin reform axis

France's president can hardly hope for support for thoroughgoing reforms from Berlin, the Financial Times comments:

“Mr Macron's enthusiastic support for European integration contrasts with the unchanged political reality that France and Germany are no longer natural allies. Unlike in France, the pro-European parties in Germany are in retreat. Ms Merkel's party lost 1m votes to the Free Democrats and the Alternative for Germany, both of which advocate policies that would lead to the destruction of the eurozone. Sixty CDU/CSU MPs voted against the Greek support programme in 2015. If faced with a similar rebellion today, the grand coalition would no longer have a majority.”

Blog euinside (BG) /

Bad for the Eurozone but good for the EU

It is good for the cohesion of the EU that Macron's push for reforms is being slowed down, Adelina Marini writes in the blog euinside:

“When Donald Tusk says that the strengthening (not the completion) of the banking union and the further development of the European Stability Mechanism have priority, it is clear that one should not expect too much hope of the reform package due to be presented in June. The window of opportunity for a reform of the Eurozone has closed. ... Thanks to the smaller EU members, who campaigned to ensure that the non-euro countries also play a role in shaping the future of the Eurozone, a high-speed Eurozone will not be able to split off from the rest of the Union. That is bad for the Eurozone - but good for the EU.”