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Macron Tells Merkel Her ‘Budget Fetish’ Is Hurting Europe

  • French president airs grievances to his most important ally
  • Merkel sidesteps Macron’s call for a euro-zone budget
Angela Merkel Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

French President Emmanuel Macron urged Angela Merkel to confront the damage that Germany’s obsession with budget discipline is doing to the European project.

“Germany can’t have a perpetual fetish about budget and trade surpluses, because they come at the expense of others,” Macron, 40, said as he received the annual “Charlemagne Prize” from the city of Aachen in front of an audience including the German chancellor.

As the French leader was celebrated for his contribution to European unity, he gave perhaps the clearest sign yet of the tensions emerging in the alliance with Merkel, around which he’s built much of his European strategy. He called for a euro-zone budget to stabilize the bloc’s economy and bring its members closer together, a key plank of his vision which Germany has so far refused to support.

In comments introducing her French counterpart, the 63-year-old chancellor paid tribute to his commitment to European unity and culture, calling him a “dynamic young politician for whom Europe is a natural choice.”

Merkel’s Limits

She supported Macron’s call for pan-European universities and common migration policy, but limited her comments on the euro to saying “we need a stable and sustainable” monetary system.

“We come from different political pasts but we find common ground, and that is the magic of Europe,” she added.

Macron’s speech was less detailed than others he’s given over the past year in Athens, Paris’s Sorbonne University and the EU Parliament, but it wove together similar themes of greater democracy in the EU, more shared sovereignty and common institutions in areas like higher education and the military, as well as the need for more pooled resources.

Yet France has struggled to find support for many of his European proposals. German politicians are wary of his budget plans and eight smaller northern European countries in March wrote a joint letter insisting member states should take the lead with domestic reforms to strengthen the EU. Italy, meanwhile, may soon become the biggest EU member to appoint a populist government since the start of the euro, depriving Macron of a once reliable ally.

Ancient Emperors

With the U.S. retreating from its traditional role as global policeman, this week quitting the Iran nuclear accord, Macron called for Europe to take its own destiny in hand and not allow outside powers to set the agenda.

“Our first rule must be not to be weak and submit to the rule and the propaganda of others,” he said. “It’s about European sovereignty, about refusing to let others decide for us.”

Aachen, or Aix-la-Chapelle in French, lies just a few kilometers from the Belgian and Dutch borders, and has awarded an annual prize since 1950 to a figure deemed to have promoted European unity. Aachen’s mayor said Macron had been chosen for his commitment to Europe and “passionate” opposition to nationalism. Macron’s win last year over Marine Le Pen’s National Front broke a string of successes for nationalist movements. Merkel received the prize in 2008.

Charlemagne was crowned emperor over much of western Europe in Aachen in 800, and subsequent Holy Roman Emperors held coronations there off and on for the next 700 years

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