26 August 2015

Macron: Treaty change “just a matter of timing”

French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron was in Berlin yesterday to address German diplomats and business people. In his remarks, he spoke openly about EU Treaty change as part of the process towards closer Eurozone integration. He said,

No vision means the status quo, and the status quo means the dismantling of the Eurozone, de facto…If one has an agreement on the vision [for further Eurozone integration], there will be Treaty change eventually.

French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron, 25 August 2015

On his way to Berlin, Macron also told Politico in an interview,

There is always scepticism in Germany when France puts forward proposals. The Germans reply: ‘Are you ready for greater convergence and a change in the Treaties?’ Treaty change should not be taboo. It’s just a matter of timing…We have a very urgent need to move forward, or Europe will continue to mean only austerity for the people. It’s a project that implies further convergence between members of the Eurozone, but also transfers.

French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron, interview with Politico, 25 August 2015

Such openness is unusual among leading French politicians, who are traditionally wary of talking about re-opening the EU Treaties. Therefore, Macron’s remarks are significant.

However, it is worth bearing in mind that Macron is arguably the most forward-looking figure within the French Socialist government and it is not obvious that his fellow cabinet members (as well as French President François Hollande himself, of course) share his view.

Secondly, Macron made it clear in his speech that he does not see Treaty change happening before end-2018 – not least because both France and Germany will be holding elections in 2017. This is way beyond the deadline David Cameron has set for the EU referendum in the UK. Incidentally, this also means Macron and his Socialist Party may no longer be in office by then.

Thirdly, as my colleague Raoul Ruparel discussed here, Eurozone countries remain deeply divided as to what ‘further integration’ means. France and Germany, for instance, continue to disagree on the sequence of the steps to follow. As Macron himself said, Paris wants more economic policy convergence to be accompanied by fiscal transfers – something Berlin is not exactly thrilled about. Such divergences could slow down the process, and potentially kick Treaty change into the long grass.

All this considered, though, while it is hard to nail down the exact timeline or what it would entail, Macron’s words are yet another clear indication that change in the EU is coming.