Macron and Merkel unite in struggle for Europe

Valérie LEROUX
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French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel show unity during WW1 ceremony at armistice site

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel shakes hands after unveiling a plaque in a French-German ceremony in the clearing of Rethondes (the Glade of the Armistice) in Compiegne, northern France, on November 10, 2018 as part of commemorations marking the 100th anniversary of the 11 November 1918 armistice, ending World War I. (AFP Photo/PHILIPPE WOJAZER)

Paris (AFP) - Beleaguered at home, belittled abroad, Emmanuel Macron of France and Germany's Angela Merkel will use a Berlin meeting on Sunday to bolster their alliance as champions of a united Europe fraught with resurgent nationalism.

After weeks of stalemate on issues such as eurozone reforms and how to get internet giants to pay more tax, the French president and German chancellor have recently gone out of their way to demonstrate unity and common purpose.

Macron gave Merkel pride of place last weekend during commemorations marking the end of World War I where he spoke out against nationalism -- a message he is likely to hammer home again Sunday when addressing Germany's parliament as part of ceremonies to commemorate victims of war.

French presidential aides said Macron will also renew his call for a European army to reduce the EU's military dependence on the United States, despite being taken to task by US President Donald Trump who termed the proposal "very insulting".

In a series of tweets after returning home from the armistice commemorations in Paris the US president mocked Macron, saying that without US military intervention in World War II the French would today be speaking German.

His tweets, in which he also sneered at Macron's low poll ratings at home, coincided with a speech by Merkel at the European Parliament, in which she too called for a European army.

Macron and Merkel are displaying "the will to speak with one voice", said Helene Miard-Delacroix, a Germany expert at the Paris-Sorbonne University.

"They share a common interest in bolstering one another. Alone President Macron cannot rally the Europeans, and neither can the politically-weakened chancellor act alone", she said.

Strongly backing Macron on an issue such as closer European defence integration "is a way for her to say 'I'm still here, I'm in control'", Miard-Delacroix said.

Once dubbed the world's most powerful woman, Merkel has seen her party hemorrhage votes to the far-right AfD party in recent elections.

Last month, she announced she would step down as chancellor when her current term expires in 2021.

But by also renouncing, as of December, the leadership of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) she has opened herself up to a possible party coup which could see her deposed as government leader before the hour of her choosing.

Macron, whose ratings have plummeted in recent months, is also facing increasing criticism at home, notably over taxation, just as he seeks to bolster his European credentials in the run-up to May's European parliamentary elections.

Merkel's support is "of great service to Emmanuel Macron" in a European Union showing growing hostility to its previously-held common values, former prime minister Dominique de Villepin told France Inter radio this week.

- 'New inspiration' -

Germany's parliamentary speaker and veteran CDU heavyweight, Wolfgang Schaeuble, said on a visit Wednesday to Paris that boosting Franco-German cooperation would help "give new inspiration to Europe".

The two countries have agreed to set up a new joint parliamentary assembly, consisting of about 50 MPs from each side, which would meet at least twice a year.

But deeper issues remain unresolved, with Germany notably suspicious of Macron's rushed bid to reform the eurozone, including giving it a common budget.

"There's questioning of Emmanuel Macron in Germany because he wants to go very fast in dealing with European issues when in fact time is needed," said Hans Stark, an expert at the French Institute of International Relations.

And Merkel is treading a thin line. "She can't back French projects 100 percent, but doesn't want to speak out against them either," he added.

Merkel "has very clearly shown how closely she shares Macron's views" on Europe, but "it's not just statements that count but how they are implemented," a French presidential aide said for his part.

Both leaders remain determined however to stand fast in the face of rising nationalism in eastern Europe and the march of populism in countries such as Italy, one of Europe's founding members.

Addressing a peace forum in Paris last weekend Merkel warned against isolationism.

Remarking that it "wasn't the right solution more than 100 years ago," she asked: "How can it be the right solution today?"