France, Germany signal ambitions with joint cabinet meeting

PARIS (AFP): When the French and German governments sit down for a joint cabinet meeting on Thursday, the intended message will be clear: the Paris-Berlin engine that has driven EU integration for the last 59 years is back in gear.

French President Emmanuel Macron was elected in May promising to overhaul the 28-member bloc with a host of initiatives to deepen EU integration in the areas of defence, security and immigration.

The arrival of Chancellor Angela Merkel and her cabinet in Paris on Thursday is a step towards creating what Macron hopes will be a common roadmap for the club of countries which is preparing for a future without Britain.

“We aim to make progress during the meeting on the bilateral policy areas we’ve chosen and broad European topics,” an official in the French presidency told reporters this week.

But the 39-year-old French president’s desire for ambitious thinking about the future of Europe will have to wait until after German elections in September, which Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is expected to win.

Macron has proposed creating a finance minister, parliament, and budget for the eurozone, which would require changes to EU treaties.

Having previously been noticeably cautious about treaty changes, Merkel agreed to consider the issue after a meeting with Macron during his trip to Berlin on May 8, the day after his election.

“Do we need an economic government (for the eurozone)? I am broadly in favour,” Merkel said in a recent interview with Die Zeit weekly, adding: “Do we need a finance minister? Again in principle, I say yes.”

But she warned of “practical questions” which needed answering, and she will be keen to avoid any discussion of the eurozone budget before the German election.

Macron has said he expects Germany to be a major contributor.

The French leader is also set to press Merkel for a financial and military contribution to a joint anti-jihadist regional force called the G5 Sahel made up of forces from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger

It is not the first time the French and German governments have held a joint cabinet meeting – the last one was in April – but both sides are keen to capitalise on the momentum generated by Macron’s victory.

Brexit fallout

The bloc is still grappling with the fallout from Britain’s shock vote to exit the EU in a referendum in June 2016, but Brexit, along with perceived threats from the United States under Donald Trump as well as from Russia, has given it a renewed sense of purpose.

In June, the EU unveiled an unprecedented plan for common defence spending to help Europe stand alone as a global military power.

After a morning of discussions with Merkel, Macron will also host Trump for talks in the afternoon in a day of diplomacy, before heading to dinner at the Michelin-starred restaurant up on the Eiffel Tower.

Then on Friday, Trump is slated to be Macron’s guest of honour at the July 14 Bastille Day parade in Paris, which will mark 100 years since America entered World War I on France’s side.

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