Sunday

17th Dec 2017

Merkel and Hollande dream of EU 'utopia'

  • 'Angela and I, we often speak English to one another,' says Hollande (Photo: Arte)

The leaders of Germany and France encouraged young people to be "utopian" and dream of a European federal state with common taxation, on the eve of festivities on Tuesday (22 January) marking the 50th anniversary of the Elysee peace treaty.

"When the Elysee treaty was signed, 50 years ago, we were both eight years old. I was in East Germany at the time and who would of thought we will be here one day," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a townhall session with French and German students and with young soldiers on Monday evening.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

She was speaking alongside French President Francois Hollande, who travelled to the German capital with his entire government and parliament for joint festivities marking 50 years of what has become the Franco-German "engine" in EU affairs.

"The Franco-German friendship is a choice. We are not born friends, we become friends," Hollande said.

It was an allusion to his own relationship with the German chancellor, whom he casually calls "Angela" these days, despite the bad blood during his election campaign last year when Merkel openly supported his predecessor and her old ally, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Unlike the dozens of young people enrolled in Franco-German exchange programmes, neither Hollande nor Merkel speak each other's language.

"Even Angela and myself, we often speak English to one another. But don't tell anyone," Hollande joked.

Merkel added: "You are all sitting together and getting along. I envy you, as I don't speak French although I would like to, if only I wasn't so busy these days. But I think you can only understand France if you speak the language and perhaps this is true for Germany, too."

Quizzed about the state of the Erasmus exchange programme for students - which narrowly avoided closure last year because EU governments are trying to slash the Union's budget - both leaders promised the scheme is safe.

Merkel also said it should be expanded to young professionals and mentioned several times the EU job portal Eures of which few in the audience seemed to have heard about.

"Please use Eures and then write to me to tell me if it works. I didn't try it as I was not seeking for a job, and I don't know if I would have got a job in France immediately," she joked when asked by a 24-year old French woman who just finished media studies and could not find work.

Different views on economy

Despite the friendly talk, the two leaders stuck to their different views on the economy, with the Socialist government in France currently pushing for higher taxes instead of cutting wages like Germany.

"We are aware we have a competitiveness problem in France. We lost time in France while Germany pushed reforms and we need to catch up. But lowering wages or social spending is not the way, rather by giving tax exemptions to companies hiring young people, for example," Hollande said.

"We cannot simply copy the German model, in our friendship, we shouldn't mix up the countries. Each has their own specificity, their own strengths," he added.

Merkel said she has no intention of copying the French model by raising taxes for the rich.

"I won't take up one element and apply it here. What is important is to have justice in the tax system. Here in Germany, ten percent of the highest earners pay 50 percent of the entire tax income. So we think our system is fair and we don't want to change it," she explained.

Hollande noted that his recent 75-perecnt-tax on millonaires is all about fairness.

But he added: I am aware we are in an open society, where capital flows and people get away," in reference to French actor Gerard Depardieu who recently got Russian citizenship to avoid paying the tax.

They both agreed that EU taxes should be harmonised in the long run, however.

When asked if it is "utopian" to think that one day there would be a federal EU state, Hollande said that the EU as it is today seemed "utopian" 50 years ago.

"I accepted that we need to converge towards common budgetary policies. We need to have a similar discussions about taxes, for instance a common CO2 tax. It's true there are political risks, but we need to embrace our common destiny," he said.

Merkel named Ireland, Malta and Cyprus as low-corporate tax havens: "I don't want to make a statement now that my fellow EU leaders will be upset about, but step by step we'll need to establish margins and then each country will have to choose how it fits in those margins. Your utopia is totally right."

France and Germany promise joint EU plans

Germany and France will table joint proposals for deeper eurozone integration by May and are "working closely" to get a deal on the EU's seven-year budget next month.

Thousands march for Catalonia in Brussels

Around 45,000 people marched in support of Catalonia in Brussels to get the EU involved in mediating the conflict with Madrid. 'Europe must realise that it can still play a role in the Catalan crisis,' said self-exiled Catalan leader Puigdemont.

Migration looms over summit, as Africa pledges fall short

EU summit leaders on Thursday will not reach any deal on migration, while Italy and the Visegrad Group countries confront each other on the Trust Fund for Africa. The debate on internal EU asylum relocation, however, remains off the table.

Romania searching for EU respectability

Ten years after its accession and a year before holding the EU presidency, the fastest-growing EU economy wants to "engage" more with its partners. But concerns over the rule of law continue to give the country a bad image.

News in Brief

  1. EU adopts 'track-and-trace' tobacco system
  2. Luxembourg appeals Amazon tax decision
  3. EU leaders agree to open phase 2 of Brexit talks
  4. Juncker: May made 'big efforts' on Brexit
  5. Merkel took 'tough' line on Russia at EU summit
  6. EU leaders added line supporting 'two-state' solution
  7. EU leaders agree to 20 European Universities by 2024
  8. Belgian courts end legal proceedings against Puigdemont

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  2. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% plastics recycling rate attainable by 2025 new study shows
  3. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  4. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  5. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  6. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  10. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  12. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties

Latest News

  1. Catalonia, Brexit, and Uber on EU agenda This WEEK
  2. Macron and Merkel take tough line on Poland
  3. Eurozone future needs structural reforms, EU leaders told
  4. Showdown EU vote on asylum looking likely for next June
  5. EU stresses unity as it launches next phase of Brexit talks
  6. Polish PM ready for EU sanctions scrap
  7. Dutchman to lead powerful euro working group
  8. EU mulls post-Brexit balance of euro and non-eurozone states

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  2. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  3. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  4. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  6. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  7. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  8. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  9. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  10. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  11. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  12. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives