/Quo vadis, Europe?

Quo vadis, Europe?

It is no secret that the European Union is in a critical that will be crucial for its future development. With the financial crisis, Brexit and national and anti-EU parties gaining major shares in elections recently, the need for action is hardly deniable in Brussels. Thus, the time is perfectly right for a charismatic French prime minister attempting to reinvigorate the European spirit. When Macron held his key speech at Sorbonne University in Paris stating his vision for the future of the EU, European heads were listening carefully. In his speech, Macron gave a roadmap fleshing out his ideas of the future of the European Union. “The Europe we know is too slow, too weak and too ineffective”, the French prime says. In order to change this, it requires a “rebuilding of a sovereign, unified and democratic Europe”.

Macron presented a 10-points-plan to facilitate the required change. The plan entails a separate budget for the EU, administered by an own finance minister as well a European Monetary fund. He also calls for a stronger cooperation in tax matters, emphasizing that internet companies like Google have to pay taxes where they generate their profits. The digital sector is ought to be regulated more centrally by European institutions to create uniform standards for companies. A European agency for Innovation could foster entrepreneurship and ensure future competitiveness in the digital sector. Asylum policy, a major reason for the rise of anti-EU tendencies, is suggested to be shifted towards the EU according to Macrons plans. A European agency for immigration could process asylum applications, integration programs commonly financed and EU outer borders protected by common task forces. Macron further proposes a common defense budget as well as European intervention troops to integrate European military efforts.

The reactions throughout Europe varied widely. While voices from Eastern European countries were expectedly restrained, commission head Jean-Claude Juncker praised the speech as “very European”. Particular attention was payed to voices from Germany, the pendant of the so-called Franco-German motor of the EU. While Merkel herself acknowledges Macron’s propositions as “an important impulse” for the further evolution of the EU she sees herself in the delicate situation of having to build a coalition after her party faced significant election losses. Even though her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) will again be the most powerful party in the parliament (32.9%), it lost more than eight percent compared to 2013’s election. Since the current coalition partner SPD had to suffer strong losses as well it decided to go straight to opposition, leaving the CDU to form a coalition with the liberal FDP (10.7%) and the Green party (8.9%). While the Green party is a strong supporter of a stronger European integration, the FDP causes concern among advocates of Macrons direction. The FDP criticizes Macron for relying too heavily on government interventions and raising new taxes. According to presidium member Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, the EU will not gain stability through opening new funds as they only reduce stimuli for a solid budgetary policy. “The problem in Europe is not a lack of official funds but a lack of reforms”, Lambsdorff adds. Having more than doubled their voting shares, the FDP enters coalition negotiations with according confidence. Besides skeptical voices from the FDP there are considerable parts in CDU and, especially its conservative sister party CSU, opposing extensive integration measures.

As there will not be a material change to the course of the EU without Germany, this raises the question about how the future of the EU could look like. In March, the EU commission gave a breakdown of five scenarios for Europe’s future in a white paper. The scenarios range from a reduction of the EU to merely a single market to a European federal state with strong Brussels institutions. The most disputed scenario is a ‘multi-speed’ Europe, a model of flexible integration where not every country is engaged in equal measure. Just like with the Schengen Agreement or the Euro, countries can choose upon the depth of integration their selves. This model does not require modifications to the EU agreements as an already ratified contractual clause could be utilized to form a union of members that has the capability to pass resolutions in a quicker and more flexible way. Although voices, mainly from middle- and eastern-European countries, raise concerns about being isolated, supporters claim it will give member states more freedom to form partial alliances and agree upon policies when it is impossible reach a unanimous consensus in the EU.

Whatever scenario from the EU’s white paper will become reality, the recent occurrences in the EU prove the necessity of fundamental changes to the union. The frequently discussed momentum that the EU was given by Macron now has to be converted into tangible results. Merkel, well aware of the significance of this phase, will have to go through intense coalition negotiations. Having the interests of the two most influential states within the EU aligned will be the key precondition for implementing the much needed changes to the union. After the German government is formed, Macron’s door will be open. Now it is up to Germany’s Jamaica coalition to enter it.