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article imageMacron's EU reforms could be tough sell for Merkel

By Clare BYRNE (AFP)     Sep 25, 2017 in World

French President Emmanuel Macron's grand Europe plan could be stymied by Angela Merkel's disappointing election score, with the liberal party tipped to join her coalition rejecting his proposals for radical eurozone reform.

On Tuesday, Macron will deliver a speech setting out his vision for Europe's future to an audience of French and foreign students at the Sorbonne university in Paris.

The europhile French centrist had been waiting for the German election to put forward his proposals on how to re-energise the EU after last year's seismic Brexit vote.

Since Sunday, he has spoken twice with Merkel, as well as with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. He also plans to consult the Italian and Spanish prime ministers before his speech, his office said.

Presidential advisors say he will argue for a multi-speed EU, where ad hoc coalitions of willing states could move ahead together on key issues "without being held back by those who are opposed".

He will also set out plans for EU-wide "democratic conventions" to give citizens more of a say in the functioning of a union widely seen as out of touch.

But some of his proposals, particularly on eurozone integration, could prove a tough sell in post-election Germany.

Merkel's Christian Union CDU/CSU bloc scored its worst result in decades, losing over a million votes to the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD), now the country's third-strongest party.

The humbled chancellor now faces potentially lengthy coalition talks, during which Macron's EU wish list -- including a common budget, finance minister and parliament for the 19-member currency zone -- could be significantly whittled down.

The pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) -- one of two parties seen as possible coalition partners for Merkel, along with the left-leaning Greens -- have already rejected Macron's proposals for a common budget for investments across the eurozone.

"Providing money for French state spending or to compensate for Silvio Berlusconi's mistake is inconceivable for us and will be a red line," FDP leader Christian Lindner, who has been sharply critical of eurozone bailouts, said Sunday.

A French government spokesman warned Monday of the rise of a "very violent, very hard, very radical far right" in Germany.

But the presidency attempted to play down the threat to his wider reform plans.

"We have four years of stable government in France and Germany ahead of us," a presidential advisor said.

He noted that both the FDP and Greens with whom Merkel is tipped to form a three-way pact are pro-Europe, despite the liberals' reticence on bailouts.

Germany and France are the leading countries in the European Union
Germany and France are the leading countries in the European Union
Odd ANDERSEN, AFP/File

- 'Cart before the horse' -

Macron has gone out of his way to build ties with Germany's leader of 12 years, visiting Berlin on his first foreign trip and pushing through labour reforms he sees as key to restoring France's credibility with Berlin.

But his rash of announcements on European reform have caused some irritation in Berlin.

"The debate launched by the French president is being followed with some exasperation in the chancellor's office," the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper wrote at the weekend.

"He talks about solutions before the question has even been properly discussed," the paper added, accusing him of "putting the cart before the horse".

Germany is particularly wary about Macron's proposal to create a eurozone budget amounting to several percentage points of the bloc's GDP.

Berlin estimates that this could amount to up to 300 billion euros, of which Germany -- the eurozone's biggest economy and chief bailout bankroller -- would have to pay the lion's share.

Macron's idea of the eurozone being able to borrow money collectively is also acutely sensitive in Germany.

Merkel has nonetheless been keen to support 39-year-old Macron as a bulwark against the eurosceptic, anti-migration National Front and a partner in the fight against populism post-Brexit.

"There is a very strong realisation in Germany, in particular in Mrs Merkel's party, of the urgent need to do something," Helene Miard-Delacroix, a historian specialising in French-German relations at the Sorbonne, told AFP.

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