Image: European External Action
TODAY FRENCH President, Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, will sign an unprecedented treaty to integrate their two countries. The move, designed as a model for European federalisation, will see France and Germany forge shared foreign, defence and economic policies with shared cabinet access. The two countries are to act as one in many respects and are to seek a permanent seat on the UN Security Council for Germany. France and Germany are the two biggest economies in the Eurozone and their combined GDP is greater than that of Japan. President Macron’s office has said that the agreement will lead to greater “economic and social convergence” between the two countries, while a spokesman for Chancellor Merkel said that the two parties “want to move ahead to ensure the security and wellbeing of citizens as well as a strong, sovereign and democratic Europe.”
Economically this will involve “harmonisation” of business regulations and fiscal policy mediated by a shared assembly. Regions on the border of the two countries will also be encouraged to become “Eurodistricts” with shared water, electricity, and transport facilities - even shared public services such as hospitals. They will also be incentivise joint business ventures across the border and common environmental projects. On foreign policy and defence, the two countries are to conduct a shared diplomatic front. Both governments will hold “regular consultations on all levels before major European meetings, and take care to establish common positions and issue joint statements.” This comes as part of a wider effort to assert the EU’s diplomatic power on the world stage. The two countries will push for Germany to get a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. The closer bond will also manifest in the form of a Franco-German security council which will act as a “steering group” for “common culture and common deployments”. This could take inspiration from UN peacekeeping operations.
Once the UK withdraws from the EU, France will be the only substantive military power in the EU. Married with German economic power, this could prove to be a formidable military partnership and the model for an EU army. The two leaders, who have both been substantially weakened domestically, are doubling down in their mission to pursue a unified continent in the face of fierce opposition from nationalists at home and abroad. Concerns have been raised beyond that, however, as other EU member states fear that he combined clout of the two countries will upset the balance of power within the bloc and drown out dissent. As Euroscepticism gains momentum across the continent ahead of the European elections this year, Macron and Merkel have reaffirmed their commitment to the European project despite the looming political and economic crises. This new treaty, to be signed in Aachen, represents the furthest extent of European integration thus far. While ostensibly a sign of unity and strength, many commentators have noted it as a sign on the project’s precariousness. The move is likely to expose tensions both within the two countries and the EU. The move has been condemned by the principal opposition parties in both countries: the far right AfD in Germany and the National Rally, formerly the National Front, in France. The move also perpetuates the feeling of domination of the bloc by the two countries, while anger continues to grow over migration and economic disputes in Southern and Eastern European states. Even between France and Germany, relations have not been their best.
Despite President Macron’s ambition to inject new life into the European project, there has been little sign of it materialising. Germany has been critical of French budgets, made worse by Macron’s concessions to the gilets jaunes protests, while in return France has been frustrated by the German refusal to increase spending to encourage growth. The choice of Aachen as the setting for the treaty carries immense symbolism which the two countries hope will project strength rather than anxiety. Aachen hosted the ancient court of Charlemagne, often dubbed “the father of Europe”, who championed himself as the successor to the Roman Emperors. President Macron and Chancellor Merkel are equally ambitious and hope to leave an equally lasting mark on the continent. Either that mark will be the unification of Europe as they intend, or the erosion of European unity will remain to be seen. In the face of fierce resistance on all sides and critical fault lines exerting tremendous pressure on the integrity of the EU, their determination to realise their dream is undeniable.