Paris, France: Macron is pushing Europe, i.e. Germany, for greater integration but so far he is just pissing in the wind.
French President Emmanuel Macron pleaded for more European cohesion while receiving the Charlemagne Prize May 10 in the German city of Aachen. With his eyes turned towards German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Macron told a captive audience that what is needed is a common eurozone budget — an idea the Germans don’t like and with good reason.
Macron needs continued German support to prop up the Euro so he can go on borrowing at low interest on the markets. French debt is nearly 100% of GDP and leading German economists put France in the category of the “PIGS” or “Olive Tree Shakers” (Portugal, Italy, Greece & Spain). There is a strong movement in Germany to create two Euros (one for the successful North and one for the failing South of which they consider France to be a member) or go back to the Deutsche Mark.*
Macron wants Germany to give up “its fetichism with budget surpluses” and spend more money so other economies can grow. This probably means he wants Merkel to increase investment in France because it is hard to see how building new roads in Germany is going to advance the French economy. But Germans are allergic to going in the red and allowing inflation (something about the Weimar Republic 1919-1933, and what followed it).
Show me the money
Germany also rejects the idea of creating a European Fund to bail out troubled banks. For Berlin “the banks of all the countries of the Euro zone, principally in Italy and in Greece, have to be stabilized at a national level” before they are willing to discuss the matter. “Don’t wait. Act now!” Macron said before a passive Angela Merkel. “Lets not be weak. Lets choose.”
Just to be sure everybody knew who he was talking to : “In Germany, there can’t be a perpetual fetishism for budget and trade surpluses, for they are done at the expense of others.”
Many German tax-payers feel they are subsidizing France’s generous welfare system for benefits Germans don’t have themselves. Germans want to see changes in France yesterday. Macron, pushing ahead with promises to modernize France, is facing resistance to his reforms at home and, although he claims the contrary, he has no clear mandate. In the first round ballot Macron received only 18% of the registered voters (23% of votes cast). In the second round of voting, given the high number of abstentions (26%), he received only 43% of the registered voters even though he was running against far right National Front leader Marine Le Pen. Jacques Chirac did twice that score against Marine’s father in 2002.**
Berlin has welcomed Macron’s reforms of labor laws and changes to the costly public sector but they want to see more done faster. And although Merkel wants to help Macron, she knows her public opinion is tired of “paying for others,” whether it be the Greeks, Italians or migrants. Last year’s electoral gains for anti-globalist, eurosceptic, anti-immigrant populists, including in Germany, have her fearing that conservatives will lose their majority in Bavaria for the first time in the October state ballot.
Hypocrisy and self-interest
There is something hypocritical in Macron’s call for greater European governance while he disregards the opinions of his partners on major foreign policy and military issues. France joined the US and the UK to attack Syria after an alleged chemical attack last month while Berlin urged caution — many Germans expressed doubt as to the authenticity of the allegations. Most German politicians wanted to wait until experts had completed their investigation.
France has just signed new arms deals with Saudi Arabia while the German Bundestag this year voted to end sales to the Wahhabite kingdom because of its deadly war in Yemen.
France has not followed Germany in officially welcoming hundreds of thousands of migrants although hundreds of thousands have made it here all the same. Most sources contest the figure of 300,000 illegal migrants given by Interior Minister, Gerard Colombe, saying the number could be as high as 700,000, and that is without including France’s overseas colonies, euphemistically referred to as Départements et Territoires de l’Outre-mer (Doms-Toms); notably illegal immigration on the Indian Ocean island of Mayotte*** and in French Guyana which cost France an arm-and-a-leg. Should Germany underwrite France’s desire to impose itself as a major world power and maintain its military presence around the globe? The new ‘Emperor’ may think so.
However, business opportunities in Iran, have the two united in their disapproval of President Trump’s decision to leave the Iran deal. Both agree to push back at any attempt by the US to impose sanctions on Europeans who do business in Iran. And they agree on the Paris Climate Accord and both have a globalist, multilateral, approach to international trade.
But Germany does not share Macron’s position that it’s OK to bomb Syria unilaterally, without a mandate. Macron however has dropped his insistence that Assad must go as a precondition to a Syrian deal but it’s still there: “I have not stated the destitution of Bashar al-Assad was a precondition to everything. For nobody has as yet presented a legitimate successor to me.” (June 21, 2017) Nor will Germany follow France which has boots on the ground in Syria.
Germany has accepted Europe must do more to defend itself, going so far as to assert they can no longer rely on the US for their protection. There is a Franco-German Brigade and there are German troops in the African country of Mali helping Paris fight Muslim Jihadists. There is also a push in Germany to increase defense spending but if ever they spent two percent of their GDP on the military, as Trump demands, they would be spending billions more than Russia!
The old voices who lived through WWII and feared German militarism are gone. One German told me: “Pushing Germany to rearm is like offering a drink to a dry alcoholic.” Giving Germany military clout when they already wield the economic sword may be regretted some years down the road.
Macron conducts himself as if he is in a position to call the shots but Germany owns the treasury. He behaves in France as if he won a plebiscite while he has earned the nickname “President of the rich.” There is no sign EU citizens are moving closer to support for the ‘Federalization’ Macron is calling for (election results in Austria, Holland, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Germany & France show this). Macron’s readiness to side with the US or go it alone on foreign policy also worries his partners. What may win the day for Macron is his audacity. This we will see at the EU summit in June.
*One of the leading voices for a break up of the Euro and an end of financial transfers to heavily indebted countries is Sinn. He does not hesitate to put France among the losers. Hans-Werner Sinn, The Euro Trap; On Bursting Bubbles, Budgets, and Beliefs, Oxford University Press, 2016.
** Because of the non-proportional French electoral system, Macron’s En Marche Party has an absolute majority in Parliament, 313 seats, although they got 28% in the first round ballot. They are allied with centrist MoDem, 47 seats.
*** For a look at the catastrophe of Mayotte see my article here: https://kazolias.com/2018/03/14/france-mayotte-an-uncle-tom-rebellion/