French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, both limping in the polls, are looking for common approaches to U.S. President Donald Trump and fixing the flaws in the euro currency.
The two need a little mutual support right now given their respective political shakiness at home as Macron visits Sunday to take part in Germany's annual remembrance day for victims of war and dictatorship. Macron has seen his poll ratings sag at home and Merkel has been a lame duck since saying she wouldn't seek another term. Her conservative party has lost support in recent regional elections.
Merkel has offered support for Macron's proposal for a European army, in the face of criticism from Trump. Both leaders have said Europe needs to depend less on others — such as the U.S. — for its defense. It's at least in part a response to Trump's disruption of the status quo in the NATO alliance by raising doubts about U.S. willingness to pay for other countries' defense.
But ceremonial appearances and good words can't paper over persistent differences between their approaches to the European Union's economic issues.
For example, Germany and France have apparently struck a deal on a common budget for the EU countries that use the shared euro currency, something Macron has been pushing for. German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told the dpa news agency that the deal was to be presented to European finance ministers on Monday, and that he hoped it would find agreement.
But the size of the budget — mentioned by French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire as 20 to 25 billion euros — is far short of Macron's idea. The amount is only 0.2 percent of the eurozone economy, far short of the several percentage points of gross domestic product originally mentioned by Macron. The compromise underscores German reluctance to sign off on anything seen as transferring taxpayer money from richer countries like Germany to more fiscally shaky ones such as Italy or Greece.
The two sides have also not agreed on a tax on digital companies such as Amazon and Google. The French and the European Commission have proposed imposing such a tax, but Scholz said the issue should be left with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a forum of mostly developed nations. Since the OECD includes the US, and such a tax would hit U.S. tech companies, prospects for a deal there are less than clear.
Macron was to speak in the German parliament Sunday on an annual day of remembrance for victims of war and dictatorship, a week after the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, and then consults with Merkel on European and international issues.
Merkel last week echoed Macron's call in an interview for a European army, a long-term prospect that drew tweeted criticism of Macron from Trump. Macron in fact was advocating that Europe do more for its own defense, putting him on the same page in many ways with Trump.
At another point in the interview, Macron discussed hacking and other cyber threats and asserted that on that front, France must protect itself from China, Russia and even the United States. His concern about U.S. hackers had nothing to do with military threats or forces but drew an angry tweet from Trump regardless.
Merkel said a European force would save money and agreed with Macron that Europe must be able to defend itself on its own. Despite the words of support, such a common army remains only a long-term prospect.