Sun, Jan 27, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Macron and Merkel are trying to safeguard Europe, not dominate it

For all its flaws, a new friendship treaty sees a bigger picture that is lost on Britain’s small-minded leaders

By Simon Tisdall  /  The Guardian

Illustration: June Hsu

It is tempting to indulge in some typical British lip-curling over the grand-sounding Treaty of Franco-German Cooperation and Integration signed on Tuesday by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron in Aachen (known as Aix-la-Chapelle in France), capital of Charlemagne’s lost but not forgotten ninth-century European empire.

The pact, reaffirming the 1963 Elysee Treaty that set the two countries on the path to post-war reconciliation, is intended to reassert the centrality of the Franco-German partnership in a splintering Europe beset by resurgent nationalism, rightwing populism and Brexit.

Cynics would say it is also an attempt to reassert the fading relevance of Merkel and Macron.

Yet it is not necessary to be an English Euroskeptic to have serious doubts about this project. Macron was accused of “high treason” this week by the French right for supposedly secretly planning to surrender Alsace and Lorraine.

Rassemblement National party leader Marine Le Pen said French schoolchildren would be forced to speak German.

Merkel was also attacked at home for falling into the trap of appearing to endorse, at least in theory, some of Macron’s more high-flying ideas about a joint eurozone budget, a banking union, common taxes and a European army.

Alternative fur Deutschland party leader Alexander Gauland said Macron was trying to grab “German money.”

Such claims are nonsense, but so, too, is the idea spread by the Euroskeptic media in Britain that Paris and Berlin are conspiring to seize full control of the EU and impose a new, shared hegemony at the expense of smaller states.

The real problem with the new treaty is that it is mostly a bland, unambitious fudge.

The soaring ideals and aspirations enunciated by the newly elected Macron in his 2017 Sorbonne speech, about a Europe of democracy, sovereignty, unity and security, find but a faint, distorted echo today.

The treaty has little concrete to say about key, contentious issues facing Europe, such as migration, social fracture and alienation, and environmental challenges.

For example, it focuses on closer governmental coordination, intelligence sharing and cross-border cooperation — all of which have been mooted before. It skates around differences over arms exports — Germany banned weapons sales to Saudi Arabia after Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, while France did not.

The pact is also silent on the vexed issue of “sharing” France’s permanent UN Security Council seat, as suggested by some in Berlin.

Macron’s proposals about economic stimulus, social investment, a financial transaction tax and bank insurance have been lost in the mists of Germany’s innate fiscal caution.

In short, the Aachen treaty could be said to symbolize all that is bad about “Europe,” as viewed through jaundiced British eyes. It sounds fine and dandy, but it ducks the difficult issues, dodges tough decisions and, in seeking out inoffensive common ground, forfeits any sense of vision.

That is what cynics would say — and they would be fundamentally wrong. In their different ways, with numerous caveats and hesitations, and notwithstanding their considerable domestic political difficulties, Macron and Merkel are bravely trying to achieve three distinct and laudable objectives.

One is to remind Europeans, including the Brexiting British, that reconciling these two great continental powers was a signal achievement of the second half of the 20th century. It was a key British policy aim.

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