German Ruling Party’s Proposals on EU Reform Target France’s Permanent UNSC Seat

James Carstensen | March 13, 2019 | 8:05pm EDT
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French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel meet in Paris last month. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)

Berlin ( – German Chancellor Angela Merkel has backed key European reform ideas from the leader of her party, despite some areas of contention with her French allies, especially a proposal to establish a permanent European Union seat on the U.N. Security Council.

Merkel, speaking at a press conference with her Latvian counterpart this week, said a shared E.U. seat on the Security Council was “a very good concept for the future” and a means to gather together “European voices.”

“The fact that France is skeptical about a European seat at the U.N. is well known,” Merkel acknowledged, seemingly playing down concerns the proposal could cause a rift in Franco-German relations.

The current permanent five (P5) UNSC members are the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China. Decades-long efforts to expand the council’s permanent membership have been stymied by regional rivalries and resistance from the veto-wielding P5.

That means that, since Britain is planning to leave the E.U., it would fall on France to give up its permanent seat if the E.U. was to get one.

Another German proposal that is certain to be opposed by France is for the European Parliament to stop holding sessions in Strasbourg, but meet solely in Brussels.

Currently, all 751 members of the European Parliament move to Strasbourg for plenary sessions four days a month, at an annual cost of 109 million euros ($123.5 million).

Because Strasbourg was designated the plenary capital in a 1992 treaty, the arrangement can only be changed with the unanimous agreement of all member-states. An attempt to do so was shot down by France in 2017.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who last December replaced Merkel as the leader of the Christian Democrats and is viewed as a possible future chancellor, laid out her E.U. reform ideas in a Sunday op-ed, in response to recent proposals for E.U. reform by French President Emmanuel Macron.

Her ideas aligned with Macron’s in key areas such as migration, including a focus on “secure external borders,” and climate change, with suggestions of a need for an E.U. climate pact.

However, Kramp-Karrenbauer rejected Macron’s E.U.-wide minimum wage bid, and opposed the creation of more E.U. institutions, such as an E.U. Bank.

“European centralism, European statism, the communitization of debts, a Europeanization of social systems and the minimum wage would be the wrong way,” she said.

“The work of the European institutions cannot claim any moral superiority over the collaborative effort of national governments,” she said. “It is the member-states that formulate and bring together their own interests at the European level. This is what gives Europeans their international weight.”

Kramp-Karrenbauer has also dismissed worries about a rift between Germany and France, telling the Welt that differing political views with the French are “nothing new.”

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz voiced support for Kramp-Karrenbauer’s vision, telling Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio that her stance “overlaps in large parts” with Austria’s.

Kurz criticized Macron’s idea for an E.U.-wide minimum wage, saying it was unrealistic.

“Do you think that German carmakers would open production sites in Hungary or Poland if the salaries were exactly the same as in Germany?” he asked.

Back home, the Social Democrats’ lawmaker in charge of European affairs, Michael Roth, was less enthused about Kramp-Karrenbauer’s ideas, calling them dry and “completely unambitious.”

The French and German proposals for wide-ranging E.U. reforms come ahead of the European Parliament elections in May, where populist parties are anticipated to make large gains.

A poll published by Bild on Saturday showed that the far-right Europe of Nations and Freedom Group (ENF) was expected to almost double its representation, from 37 seats to 67.

ENF members include Marine le Pen’s National Rally in France, Italy’s Northern League, the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom Independence Party.

Armand Cucciniello, a foreign policy expert and former U.S. diplomat who advises the U.S. military, said he saw nothing substantial in Kramp-Karrenbauer’s reform proposals, but “only ideas that increase European globalism.”

He told a permanent E.U. seat on the UNSC was unlikely, not just because of French opposition, but because the E.U. would also have to convince the other permanent members – the U.S., Britain, China and Russia – to approve of the idea.

“Allowing an international bloc to have a seat undermines the nationalistic nature of not just the UNSC, but the U.N. itself,” Cucciniello said.

“After the E.U., why shouldn't the post-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) have one; or the BRICS [Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa] have representation?” he asked.

“The U.N. is fundamentally nationalistic in nature and giving the E.U. a seat would be wrong.”

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