The difference between appearance and being could hardly be greater. At the invitation of Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel will be guest of honor at the parade on the Champs Élysées on July 14th. On the French national holiday, the duo is likely to indulge in the feeling of having achieved a great success together. Two of the five most important positions in Europe will be occupied by women, one German and one French. Ursula von der Leyen is running as head of the European Commission. Christine Lagarde is nominated as President of the European Central Bank.
Instead of Beethoven's ode to joy, however, there are only shrill dissonances from Brussels and Strasbourg in response. Lagarde are hanging on the consequences of a lawsuit for state compensation for the businessman Bernard Tapie. Far more in distress is advised by the Leyen. It still has to be elected by the European Parliament. That this happens next Tuesday is by no means certain. The EPP Group, which includes Leyens CDU, and the Social Democrats are far from a majority. Not only Left and Greens are against it – the latter found weak from the Leyens idea – but also the 16 German SPD members in the common Socialist Group in the European Parliament. Their chairman, Jens Geier, even brought a polemical dossier against Leyen in circulation.
Italy, Spain and France's Social Democrats in the EP are irritated by this. Although they also have demands on Leyen, they see their countries well taken into account in the distribution of the top positions that counts. They have little sympathy for the fact that SPD parliamentarians, including Katarina Barley, are pulling a domestic political and coalition dispute on the European stage in order to gain the profile they have lost in Germany.
Berlin is slowing down
Since the nomination Ursula von der Leyens was an idea of Emmanuel Macron – who wanted to protect the interests of the two most important EU states with the double Leyen-Lagarde -, the dispute over persons also indirectly burdens the German-French relationship. It does not grind like it sometimes claims. But it is becoming increasingly clear that since the election of Macron to the presidency, the French have been unusually dynamic, while the Germans have been in a retarding phase of politics ever since the difficult formation of a coalition. Where Paris is pushing for progress, whether in climate policy or closer cooperation in the European Union, Berlin is slowing down.
Emmanuel Macron has had to learn a certain humility when dealing with his own compatriots. The protests of the yellow vests made it clear to him that you run with a political gesture of the we-there-up-your-down under the rebellious French quickly against the wall. His willingness to reform but brings him now plus points. He wants to defend it against the permanent German delay in almost all areas. The fact that the Chancellor more than ever respects the conservative and national wing of their own party and the CSU, does not facilitate their position in European politics. If now the coalition partner SPD begins to isolate itself, citing the model of the top candidates in its own European party family, Germany will become a difficult partner in European politics as well as in relation to France.
In Emmanuel Macron, after two rather volatile heads of state, France has a president who radiates what Germany has so long missed with its western neighbor: determination and the joy of reform. That just in this phase, the blockers east of the Rhine get the preponderance, has almost tragic features.