Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would welcome new French President Emmanuel Macron with an open mind at a meeting on Monday, aiming to reinvigorate the Franco-German relationship and the troubled European project that it underpins.
Macron, who was inaugurated on Sunday, comes to Berlin with ambitions to press ahead with European integration – a mission that has unnerved some German conservatives who worry Berlin will be asked to pay for struggling states that resist reforms.
Merkel chose to accentuate the positive ahead of her meeting with Macron, a 39-year-old former investment banker who beat Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front on May 7 after a long campaign exposed deep splits over France’s role in Europe.
“The election of the new French president offers us here the possibility to bring dynamism into the development of Europe,” she said, emboldened after her conservatives won a regional vote on Sunday that boosts her chances of re-election in September.
Looking ahead to her meeting with Macron, she added: “I will say first let us have openness, to find things in common, and not start with everything that can’t be done … Perhaps we can learn from the French in certain things.”
Merkel and Macron met in Berlin in March during the French presidential campaign, but Monday’s talks mark their first meeting since his election.
The chancellor’s coalition is at odds over how to respond to his calls for closer European Union integration, with some conservatives fearful the euro zone could develop into a “transfer union” in which Germany is asked to pay for spendthrift states.
A German diplomat told Reuters Germany must decide whether it wants to continue its single-minded focus on budget rigour or work with Macron on joint ideas for Europe’s future.
Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference, pushed back against German politicians who have picked holes in Macron’s ideas for Europe.
Among those are Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who has come to personify Berlin’s focus on the “Schwarze Null”, or balanced budget. He has suggested Macron’s plans to create a budget and finance minister for the euro zone are unrealistic.
But with Germany’s economy, Europe’s largest, outperforming that of France, the traditional Franco-German motor at the heart of the EU has begun to misfire.
Merkel and Macron want to kick-start ties with an alliance some German media have dubbed “Merkron”, stressing that the EU is resilient despite Britain’s vote to leave and a spate of financial and migration crises that have boosted the far-right across the bloc.
A source close to Macron said he would seek to convince Merkel to back his “protection agenda” for Europe which includes a “Buy European Act” and regulations to prevent strategic firms from falling into non-European hands.
Showing more solidarity with Germany on the migrant crisis and insisting a cut in French public spending is an integral part of his manifesto would also be mentioned as gestures of goodwill towards Berlin, the source said.
“He has a very good relationship with Merkel,” the source said. “We’re convinced we’ll find a way to make progress with Germany.”
A former economy minister under France’s previous president, Socialist Francois Hollande, Macron is the youngest post-war French leader and the first to be born after 1958, when President Charles de Gaulle set up the Fifth Republic.
Merkel, 62, has been chancellor since late 2005, when Jacques Chirac was French president. Europe’s ‘Franco-German motor’ has often worked best in the past when leaders of opposite political persuasions have been in power.