Wednesday

22nd May 2019

Franco-German relations now a 'brotherhood'

  • Hollande and Merkel - Singing from the same hymn sheet on Greece and the economy (Photo: Présidence de la République)

The leaders of France and Germany on Tuesday said that recent national tragedies have brought their two countries together in a sign that the Franco-German engine - notably off-track in recent years - may be back up and running.

In a relatively upbeat press conference to mark the 17th annual meeting of ministers from the two governments both President Francois Hollande and Chancellor Angela Merkel referred to the Paris terror attacks in January and the crash of the Germanwings plane in the French alps earlier this month as having affected their bilateral relations.

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Merkel said the two countries had become "closer" in recent months while Hollande said the Franco-German friendship had evolved to become a "brotherhood".

"In such moments of tragedy, France and Germany become one country," said Hollande.

The French president also said they had discussed "how to push forward with reforms in both our countries" and that Paris and Berlin would put forward "proposals" on further economic and monetary integration in eurozone - a topic due to be debated by EU leaders in June.

The two sides also discussed immigration, energy union, the environment and the digital agenda - where, according to Hollande, "two big countries like Germany and France must be able to be a motor".

Neither mentioned Greece until the indebted country was brought up by journalists but both then maintained an almost identical line on Athens and on Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras' visit to Moscow next week.

Amid speculation Tsipras may ask Russian President Vladimir Putin for financial aid - something that would undermine the EU's fragile consensus on sanctions against Russia - Merkel said: "We were also in Moscow and are nonetheless members of the European Union."

Hollande also played down the visit. "European countries can travel to Moscow without that giving rise to problems for Europe."

Both leaders emphasized the urgency of Greece coming up with a set of reforms that can eventually be greenlighted by eurozone countries, releasing a €7.2bn tranche of bailout money that the cash-strapped country needs.

"We have lost too much time. These reforms must be presented," said Hollande. Merkel, for her part, reiterated that Greece can choose what reforms it wants to make but they must add up.

The French president, who on Sunday in local elections suffered his fourth defeat since he took office in 2012, also pledged to stick to his own reforms, which he said are "just beginning to bear fruit".

Asked whether they are concerned about the rise of the far-right National Front, which won a record number of council seats on Sunday, both said that populist movements were not just a French issue but a "European" phenomenon.

Merkel said such movements can be countered by good projects that lead to jobs or integrate migrants or focus on education.

Tuesday's bilateral meeting comes after the two leaders invested a lot of political capital into the Minsk II ceasefire, which they brokered in a lengthy meeting in February with Russia's Putin and Ukraine's Petro Poreshenko.

It was the first major Franco-German initiative in recent time, with the normal Franco-German motor - seen as essential for Europe - knocked out of kilter by France's relatively weak economy and the poor personal relations between the two.

Since then it was noticeable that Merkel did not openly criticise a recent decision by the European Commission to give France yet more time - its third chance - to bring its budget deficit to within EU rules.

Meanwhile, Socialist Hollande, who could have been more of a natural ally with the radical left-wing Tsipras, refrained from backing the Greek PM’s initial calls for debt restructuring.

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