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Analysis

Forget Brexit: EU’s future matters most to Mercron

by Paul Taylor | 17.05.2017

Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron barely mentioned Brexit as they outlined plans to drive the European Union forward on the new French president’s maiden visit to the veteran German chancellor.

The British problem was mentioned only once in passing by each leader in a 30-minute news conference on Monday evening. Their time was devoted to their ambitions to develop European defence and security cooperation, promote economic reform and greater reciprocity in EU trade policy and, in the longer term, deepen the integration of the euro zone.

Their warm encounter confirmed that with Britain on its way out of the EU, Germany and France need each other even more at the heart of Europe. They will not let themselves be sidetracked by the Brexit negotiations from efforts to develop the 27-nation union and make it more attractive to the public.

“It is our shared conviction that we can’t just focus on Britain’s departure but should above all also be thinking about how we can deepen the existing European Union, first and foremost the eurozone, and make it more resistant to crises and more coherent,” Merkel said.

Both leaders noted how supporters of the EU were staging a fight-back in the wake of the British referendum shock and the election of nationalist U.S. President Donald Trump, pointing to wins for pro-European candidates in the Netherlands and France as signs of a growing recognition that European unity was a “treasure” not to be jeopardised.

Macron said the cheering welcome he received from crowds outside the chancellery showed there was genuine enthusiasm for Europe, “in contrast to what many people say, it’s not all about Grexit or Brexit or what some wanted to call Frexit”.

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There were several indications that Britain’s impending withdrawal could remove handbrakes to closer EU integration, notably on defence, where London’s obsession with the supremacy of NATO has prevented substantial progress for the last decade, and on the possibility of changing the EU’s treaties to allow for a strengthening of the eurozone.

London was meanwhile still waging a rearguard battle in Brussels to obstruct the establishment of a new EU command centre for military training and humanitarian operations.  Diplomats said this appeared to be a political gambit linked to the June 8 British general election.

The new Franco-German couple gave no indication of how they would approach the Brexit negotiations due to begin in June – they had other things to talk about. But each has separately supported the European Commission’s firm line of insisting that Britain must accept its financial obligations and agree on the rights of EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in Europe before they start discussing future trade ties.

Edited by Alex Spillius

2 Responses to “Forget Brexit: EU’s future matters most to Mercron”

  • For those Eurosceptics who maintained that Britain never had any clout within the EU, the fact that all of a sudden France and Germany are talking seriously about closer integration, and military co-ordination, is proof that Britain must have had alot of influence. The tragedy is that now Europe will develop without any British influence. Macron’s slogan that “Europe needs France” is exactly the opposite of what the UK Government has been saying. Instead of taking responsibility for the future of Europe, the British response is to retreat into its corner.

  • Mr Wilson’s comments are spot on. Nowhere but nowhere have the geopolitical aspects of the UK leaving the EU been highlighted or even mentioned either before the Referendum or since. It is almost as if the UK was completely indifferent to the future evolution of the EU and Europe. The tragedy is that this aspect is as important or probably more important than the trade aspects of the relationship with the EU which has occupied exclusively the attention of politicians and the press.
    The Tory right wing Brexiteers and their financial backers are unable to see because of their prejudice that the UK ‘s participation in the EU is not an affront to their nationalistic beliefs. As Winston Churchill himself said ” All the people living in the continent of Europe must learn to call themselves Europeans “.