Merkron: the alliance planning to save Europe
On his first trip as president, France’s Emmanuel Macron has met Germany’s Angela Merkel. They pledged to defy nationalism and deepen ties between European countries. Will their vision work?
It was a warm spring day in Berlin. Emmanuel Macron, at 39 the youngest head of state in the democratic world, met Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor since 2005. France’s president received military honours on his first official trip in the role. Crowds gathered to greet him and chant his name.
In 1870, 1914 and 1939, their countries went to war with each other. But they have now assumed the leadership of the most important alliance in Europe. And on Monday the closeness of their relationship was clear.
Merkel spoke of “the magic of beginnings”, quoting the author Hermann Hesse. “Germany will only do well in the long term if Europe does well,” she said. “And Europe will only do well if there is a strong France.”
Their alliance was quickly dubbed “Merkron”.
Macron’s platform for France is similar to Merkel’s for Germany. He plans to simplify his country’s labour code; cut tax on businesses; and encourage immigration and free trade. The two leaders have a common vision of a strong EU which is open to the world and embraces liberal democracy.
But much of Europe does not share their optimism. Britain is leaving the EU.
Hard-right candidate Marine Le Pen was the runner-up in France’s election this month. In recent years anti-EU movements — from a variety of political traditions — have made significant gains in Europe.
Surveys suggest people across the continent are warming to authoritarian leaders. Nostalgia for dictators of the past is rising in eastern Europe. The EU’s opponents want to give more power back to individual states — but Merkel and Macron plan to do the opposite.
On Monday they spoke of deepening the ties between European nations.
They said they would change treaties if necessary to make the euro zone more integrated. They hoped for closer coordination on foreign affairs and trade relations. They agreed to cooperate on a plan to cut unemployment and boost investment.
Macron called this a “historic reconstruction of Europe”. Will it succeed?
The promise of youth
This is a moment of promise, say supporters. Macron and Merkel will take on the nationalists and show their hollow platform for what it is. Free trade will deliver growth and prosperity. Liberal policies will defeat small-minded intolerance. Most Europeans support these measures — and as they become better off, the rest will see the benefits.
Misty-eyed optimism, others retort. Cutting tax and liberalising the economic code will make inequality worse. The euro zone does not work across a vast continent with diverse economic needs. And rapid immigration will make European societies more fragmented. Behind the empty rhetoric lie more of the policies that drive people to the extremes.
- If you became the leader of your country, where would you go on your first official visit abroad?
- Is the alliance between Merkel and Macron the solution to Europe’s problems?
- Work in pairs. You are journalists covering Emmanuel Macron’s meeting with Angela Merkel. Write down five questions you would like to ask them and explain your choices.
- Fast forward to the year 2037. You are a historian writing about Macron’s first meeting with Merkel. How will it be remembered? Write 500 words explaining its significance.
Some People Say...
“Macron beat Le Pen. He should do the opposite of what she wants.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- French presidents traditionally travel to Germany on their first visit abroad. This was no exception: Macron went to Berlin on his first full day in office. Upon the election result, Merkel’s spokesman tweeted: “Congratulations Emmanuel Macron. Your victory is a victory for a strong united Europe and for the Franco-German friendship.”
- What do we not know?
- Merkel and Macron are thought to agree on most issues but to differ on some details. For example Germany wants more control of the money used to bail out euro zone countries; Macron wants to create a common budget. We also do not know how people will respond to their plans. Some may be relieved to see two countries who used to fight cooperating. But during the campaign Le Pen attacked Macron for being too close to Merkel.
- Macron took office on Sunday.
- Labour code
- France’s code du travail is a collection of rules that employers must follow. It is 3,600 pages long.
- Liberal democracy
- A system of government in which people vote, the government’s role is limited and rights are protected.
- On May 7th Macron beat Le Pen in a head-to-head election, winning 20.7m votes to her 10.7m.
- Authoritarian right-wingers have won power in Hungary and Poland and gained support in Germany and Sweden. Populist left-wingers have formed a government in Greece. An anti-establishment party is threatening to take power in Italy.
- In one recent study, for example, 61% of Austrians said they wanted a “strong leader who does not have to worry about a parliament or elections”.
- For example, polls suggest 66% of Romanians would vote for the former tyrant Ceausescu as president — a number that has risen 25% since 2011. Four in ten French people say their country should have an “authoritarian government”.
- Euro zone
- The 19 European countries which use the same currency of the EU, the euro.