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Macron in Germany: 'Europe can die if we make the wrong decisions'

Peter Oliver in Berlin


‌It was a hotly-anticipated address by Emmanuel Macron in Dresden, and he didn't disappoint. 

The French President delivered a rallying call for European unity and for a vast new EU-wide investment program in green energy transition and high-tech initiatives – all financed by doubling the EU budget, which already stands at $1.96 trillion over seven years. 

Macron is currently on the first state visit by a French President to Germany since Jacques Chirac called on Gerhard Schröder in 2000. That's not to say Macron or his predecessors haven't been to Germany this century – just that this is the first time in decades that it hasn't been strictly business, allowing for a bit of pomp and circumstance to spice up the visit.

French President Emmanuel Macron makes his speech at the youth festival in Dresden. /Matthias Rietschel/Reuters
French President Emmanuel Macron makes his speech at the youth festival in Dresden. /Matthias Rietschel/Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron makes his speech at the youth festival in Dresden. /Matthias Rietschel/Reuters

Wrinkles in the relationship

While the Franco-German partnership has long been the powerhouse of European politics, there are wrinkles in the details; even on issues where Paris and Berlin agree, like support for Ukraine, they can't agree on how that support should be given. 

Germany wants France to provide more military aid. France is sending cruise missiles and potentially "military advisors" on the ground to train Ukrainian troops, while Olaf Scholz's government in Berlin sees both of these as having the potential to escalate the conflict.

Although Macron's address included plenty of calls for support for Ukraine, the main focus of the speech was on maintaining the EU as a project and ensuring that member states stump up more cash for investment to make the European Union more competitive globally.‌

Macron spoke at the same spot where Charles de Gaulle addressed crowds in 1962, the Frauenkirche church in Dresden. Like De Gaulle, Macron also spoke in German – something he has done before, in a speech he gave at the funeral of former German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble. Here, after recounting his time learning German as a student, the president got down to business. 

"Our two countries are facing major challenges," Macron said. "We French are asking ourselves the same questions as the Germans. But despite all these changes, there is one constant: the Franco-German friendship."


To spend or not to spend

‌It would seem that keeping that friendship on the straight and narrow will involve Germany spending more cash on European projects.

"Europe needs a massive investment shock to meet its challenges," said the French leader. The meaning was clear in any language: that EU member states need to add more to the collective coffers, to which Germany is the largest contributor.‌

Macron also favors member states borrowing to invest, which is anathema to German Finance Minister Christian Linder and should make their meeting on Tuesday interesting. 

‌Citing how EU nations clubbed together during the COVID pandemic, Macron's address asserted: "We need to invest much more public and private money" and do so "as quickly and forcefully as possible."


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The ruling German coalition's Green Party contingent warmly described the speech as "a wake-up call for Europe," with European Affairs Minister Anna Lührmann insisting "we must invest significantly more in our common security and the renewal of our prosperity." 

‌The opposition Conservatives were also partially supportive of Macron's words. Daniel Caspary, chairman of the CDU/CSU in the European Parliament, said "strengthening the European budget would certainly make sense" before adding the crucial caveat that there are "smarter ways than new debts." The CDU/CSU would prefer the extra money to come from existing EU tax streams.

‌There has been little response from Christian Lindner's FDP, but the liberal party won't back more borrowing, no matter what the intended use.‌

Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his Social Democrats did not mention doubling budgets or new borrowing, not even in the joint op-ed by the German chancellor and French president in the New York Times.


Counting on each other

‌Macron also warned the whole EU that "we need to wake up" regarding existential threats, both internal and external, that threaten to break up the institutions of the European Union. "Only together can we overcome these challenges," he said. "Germany can count on France. France is counting on Germany. Europe can count on us. We are counting on Europe."

Macron's address was to the Europhile youth festival Fête de l'Europe – and with EU parliamentary elections next week, he directly addressed the younger section of the audience. ‌

"You are capable of it because you are the new generation that will build the Europe of tomorrow," he said. "I am counting on you just as you can count on me."

‌On Tuesday, Macron will receive the Westphalian Peace Prize in Münster for his efforts to peacefully resolve the Ukraine conflict in 2022 – and he can expect more questions about French troops on the ground.

‌Then, he will hotfoot it back to a joint German-French cabinet meeting just outside Berlin, where a joint statement is expected. Whether it will mention state borrowing remains to be seen.

Macron in Germany: 'Europe can die if we make the wrong decisions'

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