BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel faced pressure at the weekend to embrace ideas by French President Emmanuel Macron in a passionate appeal for closer European cooperation and push back in looming coalition talks against parties critical of them.
Merkel has praised a speech Macron gave in Paris last week, in which he urged European countries, shaken by years of financial crisis and Britain’s Brexit vote, to press ahead with closer integration by harmonising their asylum, defence and economic policies.
But weakened by the worst election result for her conservatives since 1949 and forced into difficult coalition negotiations that could drag on for months, she must convince potential partners like the Free Democrats (FDP), who have been critical of Macron’s European ideas, to compromise with France.
Some German media expressed concern at the weekend about whether Merkel would be prepared to set aside her cautious instincts and take the political risks at home that may be necessary for Berlin to meet Macron halfway.
They contrasted Macron’s rousing speech and staunchly pro-European campaign with Merkel’s passive re-election race, in which she barely mentioned Europe and was criticised by other parties for avoiding serious discussion about the challenges facing Germany.
“Merkel cannot hide behind the FDP. She can’t use their euroscepticism as an excuse to rebuff Macron,” German weekly Der Spiegel said in an editorial.
“She realises what an impression Macron made in Germany by speaking passionately about his European ideas,” said the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. “And she knows that the absence of fervent speeches like this has left a vacuum in Germany for which she is to blame.”
The criticism came as the FDP appeared to soften its tone ahead of coalition talks with Merkel’s conservatives and the pro-European Greens.
In an interview with the Bild am Sonntag (BAMS) newspaper, FDP leader Christian Lindner called Macron a “godsend” and echoed his language about the need to focus on a common vision, rather than get bogged down in areas of disagreement.
“We should not focus on red lines, but rather on common horizons,” Lindner said when asked about Macron’s calls for deeper euro zone integration, an area the FDP views with scepticism.
“Macron is a godsend. More cooperation in crime fighting, the military, asylum, energy and digital is within reach,” added Lindner, who is seen as a top candidate to replace Wolfgang Schaeuble as finance minister, a position with major influence over European policy.
His comments came days after the number two figure in the party, Wolfgang Kubicki, described Macron’s speech as “sensational” and voiced support for his ideas for a common army and asylum policy.
But both Lindner and Kubicki made clear that they remain sceptical about Macron’s proposals to create a separate budget and finance minister for the 19-nation single currency bloc.
At a summit of EU leaders in Tallinn last week, Merkel said her top priorities were to move forward on the creation of a single digital market and a common asylum policy in the EU.
Only after that, she said, should the bloc tackle the controversial issue of euro zone reform.
“Germany has two overarching challenges now: to give a broad vision of where it wants to go in Europe and to formulate what will give to get there,” Daniela Schwarzer, research director at the German Council on Foreign Relations, told Reuters.
“Macron has spelled out sacrifices. Now it is up to Germany. And above all it is up to Merkel to take the lead, to say what she wants.”
Reporting by Noah Barkin; Editing by Gareth Jones and Matthew Mpoke Bigg