German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron presided over a joint cabinet meeting aimed at underscoring Franco-German resolve to kick-start the European Union on Thursday.
The meeting at the Elysee Palace, which took place as US President Donald Trump was in Paris as the guest of honour for Bastille Day events, underscores Macron’s wish “to build ambitious and concrete projects,” the French leader told regional daily Ouest-France.
Macron was elected in May promising to overhaul the 28-member bloc with a host of initiatives to deepen EU integration in the areas of defence, security and immigration.
The 39-year-old French leader is keen to revive the traditional engine behind European integration – the post-war alliance of Paris and Berlin which ended centuries of conflict. But with less than three months before Germany’s legislative elections, it will be difficult for Paris and Berlin to move ahead on key issues such as the reform of the eurozone.
The French leader has proposed creating a finance minister, parliament and budget for the eurozone, which would require changes to EU treaties.
“I want the eurozone to have more coherence and convergence,” Macron said in the Ouest-France interview. He warned Germany that it must move to correct the “dysfunctions” of the eurozone and give it “the fate it deserves."
“France must reform its economy to give it more vigour,” he added, but Germany, for its part, “must support a revival of public and private investment in Europe."
Merkel has agreed to consider the issues, but they will have to wait until after the elections, which her centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is expected to win.
The French leader is also set to press Merkel for a financial and military contribution to a joint anti-militant regional force called the G5 Sahel made up of forces from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
TRT World's Sarah Morice has more.
Renewed sense of purpose
The bloc is still grappling with the fallout from Britain’s shock vote to exit the EU in a referendum in June 2016. But Brexit, along with perceived threats from the United States under President Donald Trump, as well as from Russia, has given it a renewed sense of purpose.
Merkel and Macron were to meet later with their defence and security chiefs in talks expected to focus on joint defence and counter-terrorism issues, followed by a joint news conference at 1200 GMT.
The EU last month created a European defence fund with an annual budget of $6.1 billion (5.5 billion euro), laying the basis for permanent military cooperation.
United front vs Trump
Macron and Merkel also stressed their common position on climate change and trade, issues on which they have major disagreements with US President Donald Trump who is also in Paris for talks with Macron.
The French leader said Paris and Berlin would “continue to fight on one hand against all types of protectionism and on the other hand against any attempts at dumping.”
He also said they were firmly opposed to the decision by Trump to withdraw the United States from the Paris global accord on climate change reached at the end of 2015.
Europe has been alarmed by the prospect of new US tariffs on steel imports, which could hit European manufacturers, while Macron has urged tougher action by the EU against low-cost Chinese imports.
Immediately after meeting Merkel, Macron headed off to welcome Trump to Paris at the former military hospital Les Invalides, Napoleon’s final resting place.
The two men and their wives Brigitte and Melania are set to have dinner at the Michelin-starred restaurant in the Eiffel Tower later Thursday.
France and Germany have agreed to develop a European fighter jet to replace their existing fleets, part of a raft of measures to tighten defence and security cooperation, according to a document issued after a Franco-German cabinet meeting in Paris on Thursday.
The two countries are to come up with a roadmap for developing the new aircraft by mid-2018, the document said.
The document also said the two countries agreed to work together on procuring ground systems including heavy tanks and artillery, and that a contract was expected to be signed before 2019 for the German-led Eurodrone project.
The combat aircraft project buries a split which saw France withdraw from the Eurofighter project in the 1980s to produce its own Rafale warplane via Dassault Aviation.
The document stated that the new combat system, which analysts say could involve a mixture of manned and unmanned aircraft, would replace both the Eurofighter and the Rafale.
However, it did not say what role, if any, Britain – Europe's leading military power and a partner in the Eurofighter project alongside Germany, Spain and Italy – would play in developing the new successor.
Europe currently has three fighter planes, the Eurofighter Typhoon, France's Rafale and Sweden's Gripen – whereas many defence analysts say there is room for only one combat plane in future because of budget pressures and huge development costs.