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 EU's seven-year budget next month, the two leaders said on Tuesday (22 January) during Franco-German festivities.
Celebrating 50 years of the Franco-German Elysee peace treaty did not go unnoticed in Berlin. Some 700 French politicians, students, mayors and artists descended upon the German capital. President Joachim Gauck chaired a gala concert. The Bundestag made room for double its normal capacity to host a joint session of the French and German parliaments.
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Chancellor Angela Merkel had several meals and meetings with French President Francois Hollande, whom she now calls by his first name.
And yet at a press conference after their joint cabinets meeting, both leaders were again quizzed on why the Franco-German tandem is not working as smoothly as it did in the times of Hollande's predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, when the duo was dubbed "Merkozy."
"Perhaps it's our best kept secret that chemistry is right. Then we can work together in peace," Merkel quipped.
But in remarks both to the media and to the joint parliamentary session, she went further than ever before in accommodating some of Hollande's ideas, who, as a left-wing politician, has campaigned against Merkel's austerity drive before being elected president.
Germany had a lot to learn from France, she argued, especially on involving trade unions and other social partners when developing economic policies. Family policies are also better in France, she said.
And the habit of Franco-German proposals at EU level - interrupted after Hollande's election last year - are now back on track.
"In May we will table joint proposals ahead of the June EU council, on closer economic cooperation in the eurozone, measures to boost competitiveness and to reform our labour markets. And we will urge social partners to contribute to this endeavour," Merkel said.
Hollande added that these proposals will be "as concrete and useful as possible to guarantee growth and tackle youth unemployment."
"You may have noticed that Angela and I are not from the same political family, but in the past eight months, when I see the contribution of Germany and France, I can only welcome what we have achieved to get out of the euro crisis," he said.
Apart from joint ideas on further eurozone integration, the two leaders also pledged to get a deal on the EU seven-year budget at a summit due on 7-8 February.
"We will manage to table joint proposals for the multi-annual financial framework (MFF). Germany and France are working very closely together. This work of course makes sense only if a compromise can be found in those areas where we have our own interests. But we'll make it, I am very optimistic," Merkel said. She was hinting at France's insistence on no cuts in the EU agriculture funding from which it profits the most.
An EU source told this website that a meeting of 'sherpas' from the respective capitals in Brussels last week saw some movement on the Franco-German front, but that there was no deal yet.
Hollande also struck a positive tone about a budget deal in February: "Of course some of the responsibility for the success of this budget lies in the hands of Germany and France. European countries always look if we agree on what we are doing. I can only say: don't worry, our relationship is not exclusive and is not only in the interest of Germany and France."
What seems to be the birth of "Merlande" meanwhile is rather a continuation of a strong Franco-German tradition, Fabian Zuleeg, chief economist with the Brussels-based European Policy Centre told this website.
"If they are being concrete now, tabling joint proposals on the eurozone, it can only be a good thing for European integration. There are still a lot of differences between the two but this is a strong signal they are willing to work together," Zuleeg said.
What those May proposals will be, remains to be seen. Any ideas about a eurozone budget remain taboo in Germany ahead of general elections in September.