BERLIN – German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron called on Monday for an “effective” agreement on the European reconstruction plan to deal with the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic after a meeting at the German government’s guest house in Messeberg, on the outskirts of Berlin.
“On one hand, there’s the pandemic, and on the other an economic situation that we haven’t had in a long time and which places great challenges before us both in our respective countries and within the (European Union),” Merkel said.
The German leader emphasized that both France and Germany are aware that only within the EU will they be able to play an important role in the world on issues like digitalization or on questions of “war and peace.”
The chancellor also noted that Germany will take over the rotating EU presidency on July 1 and expressed satisfaction that Berlin and Paris share a common view of various challenges.
“It’s not enough that Germany and France agree for there to be an agreement in Europe, but it’s difficult for there to be an agreement in Europe if there is no consensus between France and Germany,” Merkel said.
One of the first challenges will be the European summit on July 17-18 at which the member states will have to approve the European Commission’s financial plan along with the reconstruction fund based on the Franco-German proposal.
“There’s still a lot of work (to be done), there will have to be a lot of preliminary meetings, the greater part of them the responsibility of European Council President Charles Michel, but naturally we will support him,” Merkel said.
The fund, which is to be provided with 750 billion euros ($843 billion), will be used to support the countries that have been most impacted by the pandemic with loans and aid, or nonrefundable grants.
This last element has been resisted by certain countries who feel that the fund should be limited to providing loans.
Merkel feels that something that could help the countries that have reserves to abandon their resistance is the Commission’s proposal to link the fund to national programs to increase competitiveness.
Macron, meanwhile, said that “the important thing is for the fund to be effective, it has to have a budgetary component,” and he alluded to the fact that it is comprised of grants as well as loans.
But he said that “If we want our common indebtedness to be effective, it will have to be in the form of budgetary subsidies.”
Macron acknowledged the resistance to the Franco-German plan, which was a proposal to the European Commission by so-called “frugal” countries, that has arisen among several of the northern European countries, but he noted that those states are already obtaining significant advantages from their participation in the European Common or Internal Market.
Macron, like Merkel, avoided speculating on how the final proposal will look after negotiation with the other EU partners.
Meanwhile, Merkel invited people to look beyond the pandemic, saying that once it has been overcome “the world will be different” and steps must be taken to invest in future issues like digitalization and protecting the climate.
The French leader, however, urged that his partners adopt a “change of model” as a result of the pandemic crisis with the aim of getting the EU to abandon its “naivete” at the same time that it strengthens and protects its values.
He noted that the EU has experienced a “moment of truth” with the pandemic, but added that it provides the opportunity to use it as an opportunity “for success.”
And Macron insisted that the EU must be able to defend its model of sovereignty from the “climatic, digital, food, health, industrial and defense” points of view.
The French leader also alluded to the challenge of negotiating the terms of the new relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom after Brexit and warned that it would be unacceptable for that country to “gain access to our market without accepting our rules.”