By Thomas Badham
The French and German parliaments recently met as a part of the joint parliamentary initiative which aims to develop closer cooperation between the two nations, striving to increase their influence over decision making within the EU. 50 deputies from each country will meet at least twice a year under the joint chairmanship of Wolfgang Schäuble, President of the Bundestag, and Richard Ferrand, President of the French National Assembly.
Both Schäuble and Ferrand initially stated the purpose of this was for the two nations to further cooperate on business, social issues, and technology. Yet by January, the agreement was solidified in the Aachen Treaty and its scope had expanded to include defence, transport and education.
Some commentators have dismissed the Aachan Treaty as a symbolic move, as much of its design evokes the mutual history of Germany and France. Aachen was the residence of ninth century Emperor Charlemagne, whose Frankish Empire united territory still held by France and Germany today. The treaty was also signed on the 56th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty, a significant gesture of reconciliation after the Second World War.
Nevertheless, co-ordinated decisions on EU and UN matters and military integration does signal a new direction for the two neighbours. Co-ordinated activity between the EU’s first and third largest economies could hand them greater leverage within the EU. A joint military enterprise is also a step towards an EU army, a policy loathed by Eurosceptics but high on Merkel and Macron’s agendas. It could also see Germany become a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
This has already caused some unrest within the EU. The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker is also sceptical of this agreement, warning that it is “no alternative to the cooperation of all of Europe.”
Another critic is Italy’s Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini. Described as having far-right leanings, Salvini is expected to lead a Eurosceptic alliance during the European elections in May. Additionally, not only in the UK but in many EU countries, right-wing parties standing on anti-immigration and Eurosceptic platforms continue to gain support.
Eurosceptic MEPs are said to gain more ground in the European elections, and the perception that the French and Germans are forming an elite inner bloc may profive those standing on an anti-EU platform a significant boost.