German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron have pledged to step up the Franco-German tandem and lead Europe down the path of reform to enable a stronger and more sovereign EU.
After presenting his vision for Europe at the conclusion of the conference on the future of Europe on Monday 9 May, Mr Macon traveled to Berlin to discuss the implementation of the reform recommendations of the EU.
In light of current challenges – in particular the war of Russian aggression – “French-German partnership and friendship are more important than ever as a driving force and source of inspiration for the European project”, Scholz said during of the press conference.
The two leaders announced that they wanted to intensify bilateral consolations on EU reform and speak with one voice. The two Heads of State have therefore announced a joint consultation of ministers which should take place the day after the French legislative elections in early July.
“I hope that we will again strengthen coordination at the bilateral level and that a Franco-German Council of Ministers will take place in the coming weeks,” Macron said.
Analysts say this could be a game-changer.
“The Franco-German council of ministers, which is being held after the legislative elections in France, could be a starting point for a relaunch of European reconstruction,” said Marc Uzan, director of the Center for European Policy in Paris, at EURACTIV.
Both leaders agreed that the current situation requires decisive decisions. While many of the Future Conference’s recommendations would be achievable within the current treaty framework, “there are other issues that require profound change,” Macron said.
Macron is therefore also pushing for a convent which could lead to treaty changes. A similar path was also envisaged in the German coalition agreement, which called for using the conference results as a “constitutional moment” for the EU which should lead to “further development towards a federal European state”.
However, Scholz showed some reluctance to reiterate these ambitious goals, stating that “we would agree” if “consensus could be found” on treaty reform.
“Greater efficiency can also be achieved in Europe without having to jump straight to treaty changes,” Scholz said. He stressed that “it would be important” to move to majority voting in EU foreign policy matters, which is already possible under the existing treaty – a move also strongly supported by Macron.
Towards a multi-speed Europe?
The call for EU reform launched by the Conference on the Future of Europe triggered a strong reaction from Eastern European and Scandinavian member states.
Thirteen member states said in a joint document that they would not “support reckless and premature attempts to launch a treaty change process”.
Macron indirectly responded to these concerns during his speech to the European Parliament on Monday by opting for a Europe of other speeds.
“I am well aware of the fears of a multi-speed Europe,” Macron said, adding that the “most skeptical or hesitant” should not slow Europe down. This is what “will allow our Europe to assert itself as a power”, he underlined.
Macron also pleaded for a multi-speed Europe that would allow for more flexible integration of the European neighborhood – especially when it comes to the Western Balkans or Ukraine and the UK. According to Macron, this could take the form of a “European political community”.
This concept would imply the possibility of establishing closer cooperation with countries that are geographically close and “attached to the same set of values as us” without going through the long process of enlargement, Macron said.
While this political community would not close the doors to EU membership, it would provide a platform for political rapprochement and partial integration without formally being part of the bloc.
Scholz called the proposal an “interesting approach to tackling the great challenges ahead of us.”
However, Scholz also stressed that this approach should not hamper the accession process of the current candidate countries in the Western Balkans, such as North Macedonia.
Overall, Scholz underlined that “we want to reach concrete agreements very quickly in order to move forward with our EU integration and with regard to the Western Balkans”.
[Edited by Alice Taylor]