AKK’s reply to Macron’s initiative: A very German perspective

AKK’s reply to Macron’s initiative: A very German perspective

03.29. 2019   |  Prof. Dr. Claudia Wiesner

Finally, there has been a response from the governing Christian Democrat Union (CDU) to Emmanuel Macron´s proposals for reform of the European Union. The circumstances gave occasion for some critical remarks: First, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (AKK), recently elected head of the Christian Democrat Union, is in no government position. Second, the current German government is led by a grand coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats, and it is quite apparent there is disagreement between the partner on a dimension that was played down by AKK – the dimension of a „Social Europe“.  Third, some of the points she was playing down are fixed in the coalition contract between social democrats and Christian Democrats, in particular, a European minimum wage. Fourth and final, it was asked why AKK responded instead of Angela Merkel, who still is the chancellor and intends to stay it until the end of the legislative period in 2021.

The AKK proposals, then, represent what can be termed a very German perspective: they aim at strengthening the EU in its international and geopolitical role, but not in social and economic policy. She spoke out against any „European centralism“ and insisted on the principle of subsidiarity, which clearly means she did not want to support joint EU social policies. She did not position herself on more democracy in the EU either – whereas Macron has repeatedly claimed that the EU and especially the Eurozone needed to be democratised. Macron even suggested a Eurozone parliament. AKK, therefore, argued in favour of a stronger EU, but against a social EU, and a more democratic EU.

One of AKKs predecessors in CDU chairmanship, the late ex-chancellor Helmut Kohl, has been much more progressive than her. He always was an advocate of according more rights to the European Parliament. AKKs stance then ist o be explained against an ordoliberal economic German background that still sees the economic and monetary Union as necessary, but not as something that should be democratically governed or controlled, in particular not at the EU level.

In view of the current crisis of the EU, such a perspective is short-sighted. Support rates for the EU have been going down the most severely in the states that have been most hit by austerity, such as Greece. Even if there is no direct causal relation between austerity and right-wing populism, most academics agree that the politics of monetary austerity helped trigger the outburst of right.wing-populism throughout the EU. We also have clear indications that citizens expect concrete solutions for concrete problems from the EU, in other words: policy output that helps them in their daily lives. An EU minimum wage but be such a concrete measure. The key point in all this is that such debates are not simply debates on the better policy alternatives – the question is one of safeguarding democracy in the European Union and its member states in the mid-term and in the long run by reacting to a growing dissatisfaction with politics of austerity.

In this respect, Emmanuel Macron´s proposals are much more substantial and clear-sighted than it can be said of AKKs response. She is, however, not the most decisive and not the only actor, and co-governing Social Democrats, in particular the German EU election head candidate Katharina Barley, made clear themselves that a more social and more democratic EU is their goal. In sum, it will remain to be seen what the German EU policy will be like after the next EU election.