With Angela Merkel under domestic pressure, France and Germany have just put forward their new joint plan for continued European integration; the Meseberg Declaration.
While the declaration text contains – as every declaration does – a lot of filler text, some very interesting and tangible proposals have also made their way into the joint declaration.
Foreign policy, security and defense
The first area is symbolically foreign policy, security and defense. Here we have proposals to be debated among the member states (so not very likely to happen), such as an EU Security Council and exploring “possibilities of using majority vote in the field of the Common Foreign and Security Policy in the framework of a broader debate on majority vote regarding EU policies.”
Unanimity has become harder and harder to achieve in the EU, ever since it has grown to encompass 28 (soon 27) member states and many countries have been afraid of giving up their veto powers. A joint statement professing their willingness to give up their own veto powers for the sake of better and faster decision making, is a bold, but necessary move for France and Germany. It remains to be seen if other countries will follow suit. Poland’s PiS party has enshrined in its programme that it will only accept EU changes it wants itself. Convincing the Polish government may therefore prove difficult, although the prospect of overpowering Germany might end up too delicious for them to pass up.
Two furher concrete proposals were made in the CFSP framework: “setting up a genuine European border police building on the existing Frontex and creating a European Asylum Office harmonizing asylum practices in Member States and being responsible of asylum procedures at external borders.”
This proposal follows a two week ultimatum of the Bavarian CSU sister party of Angela Merkel’s CDU. If she does not deliver a European solution to the migration crisis in time, Minister of Interior Affairs Horst Seehofer will implement a “Germany going it alone” policy to deal with the migration crisis. This approach is supported by Austria and Italy (the so called “axis of the willing”, tastelessly coined by Sebastian Kurz), but may effectively spell the end of uninhibited freedom of movement in the European Union.
In the area of Economics, France and Germany are planning to converge the EU’s policy coordination and social and fiscal systems and will likely start with their own countries, hoping for a pull effect for other member states.
Concretely, the two countries will begin converging their tax systems, beginning with corporate tax and supporting the European Commission in its effort to establish a “”Common Corporate Tax Base”, In addition, they also want to reach an agreement of EU wide digital taxation by the end of the year.
The Meseberg Declaration also doubles down on the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), suggesting some changes to its basic functioning and reaffirms the countries’ committment to completing the Banking Union and progressing towards a Capital Markets Union. In addition the proposal for a joint Eurozone budget has reemerged, with the purpose of competitiveness and convergence. They will also investigate the possiblity of establishing a European Unemployment Stabilization Fund, without fiscal transfers.
Macron and Merkel declared they will set up a joint French-German centre for research on artificial intelligence, a first European university, which will really just be a network of existing universities, as well as looking into new possibilities for European space politics, following Trump’s initiative to set up an American Space Force. One can only hope that the EU remembers (and indeed reminds Trump) that the United Nations have declared all of space a neutral ground, where all resources are shared between the nations. As such, there can be no competition or “being first” in space.
Reforming the EU institutions
Finally, France and Germany pick up an old nugget from the Lisbon Treaty that Guy Verhofstadt keeps reminding us about and are now calling for the European Commission to have less Commissioners than there are Member States.
Curiously, they have also decided to put in place transnational lists for European elections as of 2024. A similar proposal for the 2019 elections was recently voted down by the EPP group, begging the question, why Merkel is suddenly more pro-European than her colleagues in the European Parliament. Are these the final acts of a chancellor on her way out or did Macron convince Merkel that her only chance for survival is to integrate Europe further and quickly? The next few weeks will tell, as the domestic dispute in Germany nears its crescendo.