Merkel visit to Paris gives Macron chance to put EU reforms back on the table

Having finally secured her fourth term as Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel heads to France on Friday for talks with President Emmanuel Macron, who is eager to push ahead with EU overhauls.

Merkel visit to Paris gives Macron chance to put EU reforms back on the table
Photo: AFP
Macron has called for a major reform drive to reinvigorate the European Union at a time of rising populist challenges. His proposals include a common eurozone finance minister and budget.
But he knows his plans won't get far without the support of Europe's biggest economy, which has been without a new government during nearly six months of tortuous coalition talks following September elections.
“It's certainly a day Macron has long been waiting for,” said Sebastien Maillard of the Jacques Delors Institute.
“There's a shared sense of urgency” on the part of both leaders ahead of European Parliament elections next year, which could give eurosceptic parties a greater foothold, Maillard said.
The surprisingly strong showings by far-right and anti-establishment parties in Italy's elections this month have only reinforced fears that traditional parties are failing to meet voters' demands.
“We've been buffeted, but audacity is our response” for getting deeper EU integration back on track, Macron said in September in laying out his reform plans for the bloc.
His other ideas for a post-Brexit shake-up are to create a parliament for the 19-member eurozone and a European “rapid reaction force” to work with national armies.
Merkel and Macron put defence at heart of blooming ties
Photo: AFP
Macron's been waiting
Merkel's decision to make a quick visit to Paris signals that both leaders are anxious to get the “Franco-German motor” back up and running, analysts say.
“Merkel is fully aware that Macron has been waiting for a response on his reform projects for the EU, and more specifically the eurozone,” said Sabine von Oppeln, a political scientist at the Free University of Berlin.
“Going immediately to France is a sign that she takes his proposals very seriously,” she said.
But finding common ground is likely to prove elusive on several key issues, even though the two want to project a sense that EU reform is moving forward.
Among the issues where France and Germany can reach a shared position, Maillard cited a new push to confront the migrant crisis that has rocked the continent, and more effective taxation of digital economy giants.
“The two countries are well aware that this theme will be at the centre of the coming European elections,” he said.
“It's an area where they can come together and show that the situation is under control.”
Macron outshines Merkel as EU's top diplomat
Photo: AFP
Money matters
The two leaders are also likely to voice a spirited defence of the rule of law, a response to the populist governments in Poland, Hungary and others in eastern Europe which have repeatedly clashed with Brussels.
The diplomatic tensions with Russia in the wake of an ex-spy's poisoning with a rare nerve agent in Britain give added impetus for strengthening European unity and defence.
Analysts say Merkel will have to win over many in Germany on deeper military cooperation, such as the future European combat jet.
Even trickier will be a meeting of minds on reforming the eurozone, not least Macron's call for a European Monetary Fund that could help member states when they run into trouble.
“The big question is how much money should be invested in the eurozone… Not to mention the question of a eurozone finance minister, which isn't likely to go down well in Germany,” Von Oppeln said.
And Merkel reiterated this week that Berlin remains opposed to any mutualisation of debt in Europe, in which the debt loads of individual countries would be spread across the bloc.


Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

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‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.