France, Germany cast doubt on EU support for delay to Brexit
Macron says withdrawal agreement can not be renegotiated, seeks ‘clear vision’ from UK
Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel discussed Brexit at a joint press conference at the Elysée Palace. Photograph: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg
President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday cast doubt on his and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s willingness to accept a possible vote in the British parliament to delay the UK’s departure from the European Union.
“The withdrawal agreement between the UK and the EU] cannot be renegotiated,” Mr Macron said. “If the British need more time, we can examine a request for a delay if it is justified by new British choices. But we can in no event accept an extension without a clear understanding of the objective being pursued.
“As our negotiator Michel Barnier says, we don’t need time,” Mr Macron continued. “We need decisions. The time has come for the British to make choices and give us what we deserve as partners, friends and allies, that is to say, a clear vision and a shared plan for the future.”
One month after Mr Macron and Dr Merkel signed a new treaty on Franco-German cooperation at Aachen, the mood of their joint press conference was laborious, almost lugubrious.
In EU parliamentary elections three months from now, Dr Merkel fears gains by the far-right AfD. Mr Macron hopes to avert a win by the far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
Yet Europe’s two most powerful leaders barely alluded to the big issues: Donald Trump’s disengagement from Europe; Vladimir Putin’s determination to undermine the liberal European project; Chinese economic competition; migration.
Mr Macron’s assertion that the Franco-German relationship is “strong, efficient and enables us to … be the two essential actors of a European policy that is better and better co-ordinated” rang hollow.
Mr Macron and Dr Merkel vaunted the same “achievements” they cite at every meeting, including the June 2018 Meseberg accord, which promised a budget for the euro zone, and plans to build a Franco-German fighter aircraft and tank.
Dr Merkel has braked Mr Macron’s ardour through long and fraught negotiations. He pleaded for a euro zone budget of tens of billions of euros. The agreement finally reached with Germany and approved by EU finance ministers last December falls far short of Mr Macron’s ambitions. It mentions only a “budgetary instrument,” whose characteristics are supposed to be defined in June 2019.
Mr Macron called Franco-German defence co-operation “unprecedented” and said it is “progressing, advancing, with real work by our armed forces and our industrialists”.
The German Spiegel Online website reported that the Aachen Treaty was almost not signed, because of a Franco-German dispute over policy on arms sales. Dr Merkel wanted an EU boycott on weapons sales to Saudi Arabia after the journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. France considers that weapons sales are in its own strategic interest, and Mr Macron refused.
France refused to allow restrictions on German arms sales to apply to materiel produced in joint projects. According to Spiegel Online, the Aachen Treaty was salvaged with a secret annex stating that neither government will attempt to block exports by the other.
A recent crisis over the Nord Stream II gas pipeline between Russia and Germany brought Paris and Berlin to the brink of an open row. In the end, France compromised on a move to shift the power of decision from Germany to Brussels, but French recalcitrance was interpreted as a warning to Berlin.
Mr Macron confirmed that the Dutch government had not informed France of its intention to equal Air France’s 14.3 per cent share of Air France-KLM. The announcement on Tuesday night was seen as hostile and comparable to a corporate raid. It was “up to the Dutch government to clarify its intentions,” Mr Macron said.
Also on Tuesday, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner asked French authorities to refrain from using riot guns known as LBDs. Since he supports European decisions, Mr Macron was asked, would he comply with the recommendation?
“The best way to avoid their use is for people to stop thinking Saturday afternoons are made for breaking windows, attacking institutions and the forces of order,” Mr Macron said. Gilets jaunes (yellow vest) protestors have demonstrated for the past 15 consecutive Saturdays.
“I will not leave the forces of order with no means of ensuring public order or of defending themselves against people who come with weapons and the worst intentions,” the French president concluded.