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Macron, Merkel meet amid debate on European army

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel (left) and French President Emmanuel Macron shake hands during the opening session of the Paris Peace Forum as part of the commemoration ceremony for Armistice Day in Paris, France, on November 11. GONZALO FUENTES/afp

Macron, Merkel meet amid debate on European army

THE leaders of France and Germany met in Berlin on Sunday to jointly remember the victims of European wars, presenting also a united front in countering global turmoil stoked by the mercurial US President Donald Trump.

President Emmanuel Macron visited France’s former enemy turned key EU partner from 10:00 GMT (17:00 in Cambodia) for a wreath-laying ceremony on its Day of Mourning for victims of war and tyranny, a parliamentary address and talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Macron and Merkel are both committed pro-Europeans and internationalists who have resisted rising populist, eurosceptic and anti-immigration forces in Europe and Trump’s isolationist ‘America First’ stance.

During their second meeting in a week, the pair delved deeper into the idea of a future European army, a proposal that has raised Trump’s hackles.

As the world has remembered World War I, which ended a century ago this month, Macron has repeatedly invoked its horrors to drive home his message that rising nationalism around the globe is again destabilising the world.

He has suggested building a future European army as a symbol of a united continent.

The proposal has been backed by Merkel although Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Friday said France and Germany were jumping the gun, asserting that the continent’s safety could be guaranteed only through NATO.

Weakened leaders

On Tuesday the US leader mocked both European powers by tweeting that “it was Germany in World Wars One & Two - How did that work out for France?” and adding that “they were starting to learn German in Paris before the U.S. came along”.

A week after world leaders attended the Armistice centenary events in Paris, Merkel and Macron are also due to meet again one-on-one to resume their dialogue on ways to boost the EU.

Since their joint cabinet meeting on Europe in June, challenges have piled up, with Brexit nearing and a budget conflict escalating between Brussels and Italy.

The talks also come at a time when both leaders are politically weakened, reducing the traditional driving power of the Franco-German engine at the heart of the bloc.

As Trump gleefully tweeted days ago, Macron’s once stellar approval ratings have dropped off into the mid-twenties.

And Merkel, after 13 years in power, has in recent weeks announced the beginning of the end of her reign, by declining to stand again as leader of her centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU).

She has vowed to serve out her fourth term, which runs until 2021, but many observers expect Merkel could be brought down earlier by infighting within her CDU or the unhappy three-party coalition she leads.

All this has made substantial reform initiatives by the Franco-German power couple even less likely.

There is already much frustration in Paris about Merkel’s perceived foot-dragging on Macron’s bold reform plans, especially forging a eurozone with a major common budget and finance minister.

Tricky questions

The joint army plan too faces tricky questions, among them post-war Germany’s traditional reluctance to send combat troops abroad, and the fact that it is the parliament that must approve military missions.

The next major political test for both Macron and Merkel will be European Parliamentary elections in May, when their centrist parties will do battle with populist and far-right forces.

Macron’s trip to Berlin first saw him join President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the “Youth for Peace” event where youngsters had presented “100 ideas for peace”.

From 1130 GMT Macron, Steinmeier and Merkel attended the ceremony at the Neue Wache, a neoclassical former Prussian military guardhouse that serves as Germany’s Central Memorial for the Victims of War and Dictatorship.

At 1230 GMT Macron delivered a speech in the glass-domed parliamentary chamber of the Bundestag, housed in the historic Reichstag building that still bears the scars of World War II.

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