Germany’s difficult departure for Europe
It took more than five months to form a new government in Berlin. In an initial attempt, Angela Merkel tried to form a black-yellow-green coalition with the liberal FDP and the Greens, known as the “Jamaica coalition” because of its colours. But after four weeks, the FDP abruptly walked out of the negotiations, and all that remained was to continue the grand coalition with the SPD. Contrary to its intention, categorically declared on the eve of the election, of going into opposition, the SPD entered negotiations for a coalition, which were concluded in February with a 177-page coalition agreement.
The first section of the coalition agreement is headed “A new departure for Europe”. This recalls the evening of Emmanuel Macron’s election victory, when he had the European anthem played before the Marseillaise in the courtyard of the Louvre. The section includes the statement: “Germany has a huge debt of gratitude to Europe, which is one of the reasons why we undertake to ensure its success. For Germany, a strong and united Europe is the best guarantee of a peaceful, free and prosperous future.” This is in accordance with a recently held survey, according to which 56 per cent of the German people have a positive image of Europe.
The new government wants to strengthen and expand the cooperation between Germany and France. Special significance is also given to the partnership between Germany and Poland. The coalition agreement expressly recalls that “Poland and Hungary laid the foundations for the reunification of Europe and of Germany in freedom”.
The new government specifically plans to expand exchange programmes such as Erasmus+ and to tackle youth unemployment with more EU resources. It has also declared its willingness to make higher contributions to the EU budget. But unlike other areas of national policy, no specific amount is stated.
There is no reference to the proposals of French president Emmanuel Macron in his great Europe address at the Sorbonne in September 2017, when he called for no less than a re-establishment of the EU. Among other things, he proposed a separate budget and a finance minister for the Eurozone, greater harmonisation of the tax policies within the EU and a European asylum authority. The agreement also fails to mention whether leading candidates from each party should be chosen for the European elections in 2019, or whether there should be joint lists.
Paris waits with growing impatience for a response from Berlin. In an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung journalist Michaela Wiegel in March, Macron bluntly states that part of his European project will be doomed to failure unless Germany acts. Yet a Franco-German timetable for reforms is not likely to be ready before the EU summit in June.
With her fourth and probably last period of office as Chancellor, Angela Merkel has the opportunity to reshape Europe together with Emmanuel Macron. The period from now until the European elections in 2019 offers a unique window of opportunity for this. If this opportunity is not grasped, there is a growing fear that the anti-European populists will gain even greater ground, as portended by the Italian elections on 4 March, when the proportion of votes for opponents of the EU was over 50 per cent.
Martin Maier SJ
Translated from the original text in German