The future of Europe, or the old question of „state or market“

Right from the start, Germany and France were considered to be the architects of a single Europe. For a long time the relationship was on equal terms, but the financial crisis of the states put an end to this. Macron’s speech yesterday can therefore be understood all the more as a sign that France can now be relied on once again as a political power on both sides of the Rhine as well as ultimately in the whole of Europe.

Yet Macron’s speech was much more than just token politics; thankfully it was very concrete, and offers Europe a first serious discussion base as to how the EU can be prevented from drifting further apart after Brexit. This alone is progress compared with the proposals of EU Commission President Juncker which were far too obviously aimed at expanding the Brussels power base and thereby further extending the greatly-criticised centralism. In many areas, Macron, who had also previously coordinated his speech with Merkel, will be welcomed with open arms in Berlin. Few among the Euro-enthusiasts would object to common asylum standards, an EU-wide minimum taxation of multinational concerns or the notion of greater military cooperation. If France and Germany pull together here, it should prove difficult for the rest of the EU to oppose these plans even if in particular the asylum proposals are unlikely to meet with united consent among the central European EU states.

Both the securing of Europe’s external borders as well as the asylum question are key issues for Europe that urgently require a solution if the unity of the community is to be preserved. In the final analysis, these issues could have tipped the scales in favour of Brexit. However, if above all the future of the Eurozone is to be safeguarded, the second major problem area to be resolved is the area of economic and social relations. While all sides agree that greater economic integration is essential, the positions regarding „how to achieve this“ couldn’t lie further apart.

Macron’s speech yesterday also clearly highlighted how far deep the differences lie in this question on either side of the Rhine. While Macron relies on the guiding hand of the state, would like to install a European Finance Minister with a budget of his own and finally is also inclined towards the idea of a solidarity-based Europe, three of the four parties in Berlin that would be participating in a Jamaica coalition are more likely to subscribe to the notion of the guiding function of the market. For the FDP, it is even an elementary part of their understanding that the state is only called upon when competition is demonstrably unable to regulate things. Conversely, the German liberals fear that any gateway towards expanding the transfer union would become manifest in financial dependences instead of seeing them overcome. But, given the success of the euro-critical AfD, Merkel’s union will also very carefully consider the extent to which it would risk raising payments to Europe and thereby expose itself to the need to defend such actions.

Germany’s counterproposal to Macron’s model of a Finance Minister with his own budget is the European Monetary Fund, the task of which, however, would be to control and not direct the fiscal happenings in the Eurozone. The high expectations placed on both countries demand consent in this issue, and both governments should be sufficiently pragmatic to find such a solution. But if the common denominator turns out too small, disillusionment could rear its head again and thereby jeopardise efforts to end Europe’s crisis. Whether the development of the European idea proves a success will therefore also depend decisively on the extent to which either side is willing to disengage somewhat from their particular cultural imprint and embark on new routes beyond the Rhine.

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