Can the Franco-German couple provide a new impetus for the future of the EU?

In the past few days, French and German leaders have met on several occasions to celebrate the 55th anniversary of the “Elysée Treaty”, the first bilateral cooperation agreement between the two countries since the end of WW2. Although modern France and Germany differ completely from the countries led by President Charles de Gaulle and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer respectively at the time of that signing in 1963, the importance of this renewed show of friendship and enhanced cooperation conveys the same symbolic significance.

While EU leaders are considering what the future of the EU should look like without the UK, all eyes are on Paris and Berlin, together seen as the necessary catalyst of a new EU of 27 Member States, able to meet citizens’ expectations domestically (thus fighting populist movements) while also becoming a driving force on the international stage.

This ambition has already been outlined by President Macron during his Sorbonne speech in September 2017, in which he called for a more integrated, more united, more efficient, more protective and more democratic Union. In their joint declaration following their meeting on 20 January, Mr Macron and Mrs Merkel notably recalled the importance of the Franco-German friendship in regards EU integration, and called for further alignment of both countries’ positions at European and international level.

This renewed cooperation will only be possible with further harmonisation of French and German legislative frameworks, common application of EU legislation, and bilateral policies and projects to foster economic, fiscal and social convergence. This ambitious agenda is supported by both countries’ Parliaments, with a joint resolution adopted by the French Assemblée Nationale and the German Bundestag in an extraordinary joint meeting on 22 January.

In it, both assemblies call for the strengthening of cooperation between the two countries, through the creation of a Franco-German economic area with harmonised rules for a common corporate tax base, further alignment in the fields of company and employment law, as well as a convergence of social rights to be used as a blueprint for greater harmonisation at European level. This enhanced cooperation would also focus on the environment and energy, digital issues, migration and integration, as well as foreign and defence policy.

A coordinated approach is also expected as regards the deepening of the Economic and Monetary Union, via the establishment of a high level working group, tasked with drafting joint propositions in this field by spring 2018. Additionally, the two assemblies also call for a coordinated approach and progressive convergence of legislative processes between France and Germany, notably as regards the national transposition of European Directives. This would seemingly be possible through the creation of a joint supervisory board responsible for assessing whether transposition of European legislation goes beyond what is necessary.

This move has been welcomed by MEP Anne Sander (EPP, France), member of the Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) Committee of the European Parliament – and a strong advocate of the Franco-German friendship, given her Alsatian roots. “France and Germany have a historic responsibility in providing an impetus for the EU to become stronger”, said the MEP. “It is only through greater harmonisation of our economic, fiscal and social framework, that the Eurozone and the EU as a whole can benefit from a truly integrated Single Market.”

However, before this shared ambition can effectively become reality, both countries will need to clear a few political hurdles. First, Germany is still in the process of forming its Government, four months after the September 2017 elections that weakened Chancellor Merkel on the domestic stage. Second, both countries will need to convince their fellow EU leaders of the merits of their ambition, if they are to gain wider traction.

President Macron had hoped that this 55th anniversary could be marked with the signature of a new bilateral treaty, but the recent domestic developments in Germany have prevented such an outcome. Nonetheless, both leaders have committed to renew the Elysée Treaty later in 2018, once a stable German government is formed. This could be the first step towards further integration in the short term and, at a later stage, a basis for a multi-speed Europe with different levels of integration and cooperation.

Julien David