Macron takes potshot at Germany over 'budget fetish'
President Emmanuel Macron of France urged Germany yesterday to drop its "fetish for budget and trade surpluses" amid foot-dragging from Angela Merkel over his reform plans for Europe.
Two days after Donald Trump pulled America out of the Iran nuclear deal, the French leader said the time was ripe for strengthening "European sovereignty". He issued the plea after receiving the Charlemagne Prize for his "contagious enthusiasm" for strengthening EU cohesion and integration.
His words earned the praise of Ms Merkel at a prize-giving ceremony in Aachen, residence of Charlemagne, dubbed "the father of Europe" for uniting much of western Europe in the ninth century.
"With Emmanuel Macron, a dynamic young politician has entered the European stage, for whom European integration and the common currency are a clear course," Ms Merkel said.
However, hamstrung by six months of negotiations over forming a new coalition government, Ms Merkel has shown little enthusiasm for the French president's call for a common finance minister or budget.
But Mr Macron insisted: "France has changed. It is no longer the same, and that is the choice of the French people."
He said he was prepared to challenge Gallic resistance to changing EU treaties and to impose reform, but "in Germany, there cannot be a perpetual fetish for budget and trade surpluses, because they are always achieved at the expense of others. Let us not be afraid now of getting over our own taboos, our own habits," he said.
In a speech to an audience including leaders from Lithuania, Bulgaria, Luxembourg and Ukraine, Mr Macron also called on Europe to defend the global multilateral order.
"We made the choice to build peace and stability in the Middle East," he said in a nod to the involvement of France, Germany and Britain in the Iran deal. "Other powers, just as sovereign as us, have decided not to respect their own word," he added.
Ms Merkel acknowledged that "it is no longer the case that the United States of America will simply protect us - Europe must take its fate in its own hands".
With America at odds with Europe in a string of areas, from the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord to threats of punitive trade tariffs, Mr Macron said Europe stood at a "historic moment".
The two leaders have promised to agree a common map for the future of the EU by the time of a summit in Brussels next month. "We need to do everything to make Europe stronger, more united, more sovereign, more democratic," stressed Mr Macron.
Other recipients of the Charlemagne Prize included Winston Churchill and Tony Blair. (© Daily Telegraph, London)