Angela Merkel receives Emmanuel Macron on Monday on the eve of a German presidency of the European Union facing, with the coronavirus, an unprecedented crisis that the Chancellor intends to seize before leaving power.
The French president will have to recover after her party’s failure on Sunday in municipal elections marked by a surge of environmentalists.
Before heading to Berlin, Emmanuel Macron receives the 150 members of the Citizens’ Climate Convention (CCC) at the Élysée Palace on Monday, the day after the green wave.
It intends to provide “strong answers” and “up to the ecological stakes and expectations” of the French.
From the European Commission’s Green Deal to Brexit, migration and relations with China and the United States, there will be no shortage of projects for the Chancellor from 1 July.
She had not held the rotating presidency of the EU since 2007.
But it is the COVID-19 epidemic and the resulting economic crisis that will be the priority for the next six months.
“The coronavirus pandemic has changed our world, as have the plans of the German Presidency,” the Chancellor summed up at the end of May.
“The first reflexes, including ours, were rather national and not always European,” admitted Merkel, who now intends to ward off “the danger that a deep gap will continue to widen in Europe.”
It now relies on “solidarity and mutual aid” between the 27.
A 180-degree turn on the part of the German leader, questioned for her intransigence towards a Greece close to bankruptcy in 2011.
The Chancellor, who has so far been criticised for her commitment to fiscal orthodoxy and her extreme caution on the European stage, could thus “use this presidency to shape a legacy,” according to a European diplomat, referring to the Chancellor’s “swan song”.
Merkel, who has been in power for 15 years, plans to leave the chancellery at the end of 2021.
Often accused of a lack of political courage, however, she has just broken a German taboo on financial solidarity by proposing with Mr Macron a European stimulus package of 500 billion euros ($767 billion).
Above all, the two leaders, who meet in the early evening at Meseberg Castle, north of Berlin, proposed that it be financed by mutualised European debts used to finance subsidies to the countries most affected by the virus.
This Franco-German initiative paved the way for the European Commission’s plan of 750 billion euros ($1150 billion), which still promises tough negotiations in Europe.
“We are optimistic, determined and willing to get a budget agreement in July,” the French presidency wants to believe.
However, the Chancellor told several European newspapers, including Le Monde, on Friday that she had “no illusions about the difficulty of the upcoming negotiations.”
The stakes are high, with the success of this rotating presidency, and even the future of the European Union, playing out in the coming weeks.
Failure to adopt the stimulus package would “exacerbate all problems” by feeding populism, the Chancellor warned in the interview.
“Very high unemployment in a country can develop an explosive political power. The threats to democracy would then be greater,” she warns.
If the EU overcomes the reluctance of the so-called “frugal” countries opposed as it stands to the stimulus package — the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark and Sweden — the German Presidency will be partly successful.
Devastating “no deal”
But another big chunk awaits the EU, with post-Brexit negotiations deadlocked.
Leaving the EU on 31 January, the UK is now negotiating with Brussels to try to establish an advantageous trade relationship with the European bloc at the end of the transition period ending at the end of the year.
The discussions have not made any real progress as the deadline approaches fast, and with it the risk of a devastating no deal for the economy.
Merkel also makes no secret of the fact that she intends to see Europe assume “more responsibility” on a global scale in the face of the Chinese and American “blocks”.
The German Chancellor wants to conclude an “investment agreement” with Beijing. But an EU-China summit in Leipzig in September had to be cancelled because of the epidemic and also because of a lack of prospect of agreement.