Macron and Merkel unite in struggle for Europe

Beleaguered at home, belittled abroad, Emmanuel Macron of France and Germany's Angela Merkel will use a Berlin meeting on Sunday to bolster their alliance as champions of a united Europe fraught with resurgent nationalism.

Macron and Merkel unite in struggle for Europe
Merkel and Macron greeting each other at a ceremony commemorating the end of World War I. Photo: DPA

Beleaguered at home, belittled abroad, Emmanuel Macron of France and Germany's Angela Merkel will use a Berlin meeting on Sunday to bolster their alliance as champions of a united Europe fraught with resurgent nationalism.

After weeks of stalemate on issues such as eurozone reforms and how to get internet giants to pay more tax, the French president and German chancellor have recently gone out of their way to demonstrate unity and common purpose.

Macron gave Merkel pride of place last weekend during commemorations marking the end of World War I where he spoke out against nationalism – a message he is likely to hammer home again Sunday when addressing Germany's parliament as part of ceremonies to commemorate victims of war.

French presidential aides said Macron will also renew his call for a European army to reduce the EU's military dependence on the United States, despite being taken to task by US President Donald Trump who termed the proposal “very insulting”.

In a series of tweets after returning home from the armistice commemorations in Paris the US president mocked Macron, saying that without US military intervention in World War II the French would today be speaking German.

His tweets, in which he also sneered at Macron's low poll ratings at home, coincided with a speech by Merkel at the European Parliament, in which she too called for a European army.

Macron and Merkel are displaying “the will to speak with one voice”, said Helene Miard-Delacroix, a Germany expert at the Paris-Sorbonne University.

“They share a common interest in bolstering one another. Alone President Macron cannot rally the Europeans, and neither can the politically-weakened chancellor act alone”, she said.

Strongly backing Macron on an issue such as closer European defence integration “is a way for her to say 'I'm still here, I'm in control'”, Miard-Delacroix said.

Once dubbed the world's most powerful woman, Merkel has seen her party hemorrhage votes to the far-right AfD party in recent elections.

Last month, she announced she would step down as chancellor when her current term expires in 2021.

But by also renouncing, as of December, the leadership of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) she has opened herself up to a possible party coup which could see her deposed as government leader before the hour of her

Macron, whose ratings have plummeted in recent months, is also facing increasing criticism at home, notably over taxation, just as he seeks to bolster his European credentials in the run-up to May's European parliamentary elections.

Merkel's support is “of great service to Emmanuel Macron” in a European Union showing growing hostility to its previously-held common values, former prime minister Dominique de Villepin told France Inter radio this week.

SEE ALSO: 'Madame Merkel'? 'No, I'm the Chancellor of Germany'

'New inspiration'

Germany's parliamentary speaker and veteran CDU heavyweight, Wolfgang Schaeuble, said on a visit Wednesday to Paris that boosting Franco-German cooperation would help “give new inspiration to Europe”.

The two countries have agreed to set up a new joint parliamentary assembly, consisting of about 50 MPs from each side, which would meet at least twice a

But deeper issues remain unresolved, with Germany notably suspicious of Macron's rushed bid to reform the eurozone, including giving it a common budget.

“There's questioning of Emmanuel Macron in Germany because he wants to go very fast in dealing with European issues when in fact time is needed,” said Hans Stark, an expert at the French Institute of International Relations.

And Merkel is treading a thin line. “She can't back French projects 100 percent, but doesn't want to speak out against them either,” he added.

Merkel “has very clearly shown how closely she shares Macron's views” on Europe, but “it's not just statements that count but how they are implemented,” a French presidential aide said for his part.

Both leaders remain determined however to stand fast in the face of rising nationalism in eastern Europe and the march of populism in countries such as Italy, one of Europe's founding members.

Addressing a peace forum in Paris last weekend Merkel warned against isolationism.

Remarking that it “wasn't the right solution more than 100 years ago,” she asked: “How can it be the right solution today?”

Member comments

  1. The main problem in European integration, is the language barriers. A unified Army is a great idea. But what about mistakes in translations. That could set off a conflict by accident. The Eurozone must gel like a well oiled machine, if it ever wants to get out from under the United States of America. You’ve accomplished a common currency as a starting point, which is great. Now you must develop a Unified Defense Command, which means NOT relying on Britain or the US for their Nuclear umbrella deterrent. And that means arming those countries that have renounced their use or possession.

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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.”

READ ALSO: ‘Eternal’ chancellor: Germany’s Merkel to hand over power
READ ALSO: The Merkel-Raute: How a hand gesture became a brand

‘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”.