Meseberg Declaration—France, Germany Present Their EU Reform Plan
20 JUN 2018 Spotlight
Just ahead of this month’s European Council summit, France and Germany presented long-awaited joint ideas on EU reform, the most important of which concern the euro area and migration policy. The declaration, signed in Meseberg (Brandenburg, Germany) by Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Macron is a sign that the process of deepening integration may soon accelerate.

What is the declaration?

The Meseberg meeting dispels fundamental doubts about the readiness of France and Germany to formulate a joint EU reform agenda. Those doubts grew as German politicians for many months ignored President Macron’s bold proposals for EU reform, presented in September 2017. The Meseberg document is extensive: it refers to the euro area, migration, security, competitiveness, digitisation, and climate change, and also EU institutions. It contains as much detail as generalities, and specific dates for the implementation of reforms are mixed in with announcements of starting talks in difficult areas. This is a deliberate effort: the Meseberg Declaration is meant to prepare the ground for negotiations with other EU countries during the European Council summit at the end of June.

Are there winners?

Both the French and German political leaders are urgently in need of a win. Merkel has problems within her coalition, with sister party CSU demanding profound changes in migration policy, and a solution at the European level could end the argument . Macron, in turn, is beginning to be held accountable for his promises to carry out deep reform in the European Union. They both found significant benefits in the Meseberg Declaration. Merkel received French support for migration policy (important ahead of an informal meeting on migration with a group of Member States, planned for 24 June) and minimised the risk of transfer mechanisms in the euro area. Macron, in turn, can boast that Germany has agreed on the nucleus of the eurozone’s common budget and reforms in the EU decision-making system.

What are the proposals for migration policy?

The document promises to extend cooperation with both the countries of origin and transit of migrants to limit migration into the EU and accelerate returns. Frontex is to be transformed into the European Border Police with more staff and powers than before. France and Germany are also striving to reform the Dublin Regulation. They want more leverage to ensure that EU countries are fairly and responsibly examining asylum applications, and to set up a European Asylum Office charged with harmonising asylum procedures and examining asylum applications. For Merkel, it was also important to obtain France’s support for European solutions in specific areas concerning migration, including halting secondary movement, which will give her a chance to overcome the internal coalition crisis.

What are the proposals for the euro area?

The declaration envisions changes to the currency union, with the creation of a eurozone budget by 2021 as part of the overall EU budget the most noteworthy. That budget would be financed from national contributions, new taxes, and other European sources. Although this is a point for Macron, it is also worth noting that Germany did not agree to a specific budget amount. This probably means a modest sum of €20–25 billion, too small for it to have the fiscal function expected by France. Another important announcement from Meseberg was the call for reform of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) by increasing its ability to support countries and banks in crisis. However, there was no clear mention of turning it into a politically more autonomous European Monetary Fund.

Who will support the Meseberg proposals?

Merkel and Macron can count on the support of the European Commission, whose previous proposals regarding the euro area budget or migration policy were close to those stated in the declaration. In addition, the reformed ESM does not pose a threat to the Commission’s role in assessing the financial condition of the Member States. The reaction of the Member States remains unknown. Scepticism can be expected, for example, from the finance ministers of northern EU states, who earlier warned France and Germany against imposing their bilaterally agreed ideas on other states and creating mechanisms that could potentially be used for financial transfers. The document stresses that financial assistance will be conditional and based on loans, but that might be not enough to convince hardliners among the Member States.

What does the Meseberg Declaration mean for Poland?

From the point of view of the Polish authorities, the declaration contains many controversial points. Among them are the reduction in the number of commissioners, the creation of transnational EP electoral lists in 2024, an extension of majority voting to Common Foreign and Security Policy, and even the announcement of enforcing the rule of law “everywhere in the EU,” which can be read as support for a tough stance on Article 7. Other challenges include the change to a European Border Police and unifying asylum policy, as well as the separate budget for the euro area. In general, the declaration means that the Polish government will have more difficulties in finding allies for its view of EU reform: That a “step back” and strengthening the nation-states makes more sense than deepening integration.