How France’s Emmanuel Macron wants to reform the EU

The French president wants to further centralize the eurozone. While Germany backs reform, Berlin is reluctant to support a “transfer union” that would see it pay more than it gets. DW examines what’s on the table.

Emmanuel Macron winks

French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to push through reforms of the European Union and the eurozone monetary union. Since assuming office in 2017, he has consistently emphasized his desire to partner with Germany to jointly lead these reforms.

The French president wants:

  • to create a post for an EU finance minister.
  • to establish a joint eurozone budget.
  • to institute a body tasked with overseeing bloc-wide economic policy.

Macron envisions a two-speed Europe which would allow countries that want to work towards further integration to go forward with such measures while others can choose to maintain the status quo.

In terms of monetary union reforms, Macron believes a separate parliament comprising elected members from eurozone countries would allow them to decide on matters that do not concern EU member states that have yet to adopt the euro.

Read more: Is Emmanuel Macron Europe’s new Angela Merkel?

Although German Chancellor Angela Merkel has backed calls for reforms, she has cautiously stated that both countries need to find a “common position,” especially when it comes to reforming the 19-member eurozone.

Map showing eurozone and EU countries

View from Germany

Berlin has been notably reluctant to support Macron’s proposal of pooling financial resources for the eurozone, in what many in Germany’s parliament believe would create a “transfer union” that would likely see Germany provide more financial resources than it would receive from a collective fund. Berlin has also emphasized that such a fund should be linked to economic reforms.

Read more: Germany’s new government: What does it mean for the EU?

One proposal from the German side would see the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the eurozone’s bailout fund, turn into a European Monetary Fund that would redistribute resources to countries in need. That proposal was put forward by former Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble.

Under a coalition agreement, Germany’s new government has backed bloc-wide reforms, stipulating that it will pay more into the EU’s budget while stressing the need for budgetary discipline.

Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron embrace each otherWithout Germany’s support, it would be practically impossible for Macron to implement his EU and eurozone reforms


Merkel and Macron agreed last year to a tentative deadline of March to establish a framework for the reforms. Both leaders have suggested a June deadline for other eurozone members to agree on a roadmap to implement the reforms.

Germany and France will have to overcome their contradicting beliefs on the concept of centralization in the eurozone. For Macron, the monetary union needs more centralization, while Merkel believes current issues are pegged to an over-reliance on centralized structures.

Meanwhile, the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, proposed in December similar reforms, including creating a finance ministerial post and a “rainy-day” budget for member states hit by economic hardship.


France presents new immigration bill

The new legislation would criminalize illegal border crossings but aims to cut the waiting time on asylum applications. Migrant rights groups have called for the bill to be withdrawn, labeling it “too repressive.”

People with suitcases walk past the burning Calais refugee camp on October 26, 2016. (picture-alliance/AP Photo/T. Camus)

French President Emmanuel Macron’s government presented a controversial immigration bill to the Cabinet on Wednesday, amid criticism from migrant organizations and members of Macron’s own party.

Macron has faced pressure to act on immigration after he won the 2017 presidential election, which saw 34 percent of the second round vote go to far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who had campaigned on immigration concerns.

Read more: Opinion: The EU is divided by refugee policy

The new legislation includes plans to:

  • Introduce fines of €3,750 ($4,620) or a 1-year jail term for people who illegally cross borders within the EU
  • Double the time asylum-seekers can be held in detention to 90 days
  • Halve the amount of the time asylum-seekers have to appeal if their refugee status is denied
  • Hasten the deportation of those asylum-seekers deemed to be economic migrants
  • Cut the average waiting time on asylum applications from 11 months to six

‘Most vulnerable will be punished’

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb has said the law is “balanced” and “aligned with European procedures,” arguing that if France did not tighten its laws it would attract refugees put off by tougher rules elsewhere in Europe.

“If we don’t take this into account, we won’t be able, tomorrow, to guarantee the right to asylum in France,” Collomb said.

But staff at the asylum court have raised concerns that the tighter turnaround on cases will make it harder for applicants to appeal.

The bill has caused some divide in France’s left-right coalition government. Jean-Michel Clement, a lawmaker who joined Macron’s centrist Republic on the Move (LREM) party after switching from the Socialists, said the new legislation would hurt those who are already vulnerable.

“The most vulnerable will be punished,” Clement said. “It’s not forbidden to put a little humanity into a draft law.”

Read more: Follow the money: What are the EU’s migration policy priorities?

Another LREM lawmaker, Mathieu Orphelin, on Tuesday said increasing the detention time from 45 days to 90 days was problematic, adding that he intended to draw up amendments to the bill.

People working with organizations that assist refugees also criticized the bill, with some workers at France’s refugee protection office OFPRA going on strike to protest the bill on Wednesday, calling it “an unequivocal departure from France’s tradition of asylum.”

Read more: The Migration Dilemma: ‘We were treated like animals’

Migrant charity Cimade said it was asking for the bill to be withdrawn. “We’re not even in favor of fighting for changes to the bill, because the philosophy behind it is just too repressive.”

Watch video00:24

Macron vows no return of Calais migrant camp

How many asylum claims does France receive: According to OFPRA, France received a 100,000 asylum applications in 2017 — its highest number for a single year to date.

‘Jungle’ camp gone, but Calais still a migrant hot spot: At the center of the French immigration crisis is the port town of Calais in the country’s northeast, where the infamous “Jungle” migrant camp was closed down in October 2016. The city is the closest point between France and Britain, with two cross-Channel transport systems: the Eurotunnel and ferries. The town continues to be a hub for asylum-seekers hoping to make it to the United Kingdom.

Tension between France and Britain: An agreement in 2003, known as the Touquet Accords, moved the British border to Calais and left France to deal with migrants who had been refused entry into Britain. In January, Macron said he wanted to negotiate a better police cooperation with the UK to handle the migrants in Calais, as well as more money from Britain to help develop the city.

Watch video00:53

Debris and ashes: ‘Jungle’ of Calais demolished

law/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)


Turkey denies use of chemical weapons in Syria

Turkey says it has “never used chemical weapons” after claims it used a toxic gas during an offensive in Afrin, Syria. Local doctors had been quoted as saying they treated people for exposure to chemical gases.

The northern Syrian Kurdish town of Afrin (Getty Images/AFP/A. Shafie Bilal)

Turkey on Saturday denied allegations that it had used poisonous gas during operations in the northwestern Afrin region of Syria, following accusations from a human rights group and local news outlets.

Responding to claims that six men were treated for symptoms in line with exposure to toxic gas after a shelling offensive on Friday, a Turkish diplomatic source said Turkey had “never used” chemical weapons in Syria and accusations that it had done so during its offensive against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia were “baseless.”

Read more: Turkey’s military offensive against Kurdish-held Afrin: What you need to know

“Turkey never used chemical weapons,” the diplomat said. “[These are] lies…This is black propaganda.”

The White House said it was “extremely unlikely” the Turkish military used chemical weapons against the Kurds.

Turkey claims the YPG is linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting a rebellion against the Turkish state since 1984.

Watch video03:57

Strong support for Turkish offensive, dissent suppressed

Reports of chemical gas use

Turkey launched an air and ground offensive dubbed “Olive Branch” in January on the Afrin region, opening a new front in the multi-sided Syrian war, to target Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) on Friday reported that six civilians had breathing difficulties and other symptoms after a suspected poisonous gas attack.

Read more: Syrian conflict: Where does the Assad regime stand on the Afrin offensive?

Syrian Kurdish news outlets and state-run news agency SANA also reported the alleged attack on the village of Sheikh Hadid in the Kurdish-controlled enclave of Afrin in the country’s northwest.

SOHR and the news outlets quoted local doctors in Afrin as saying the victims experienced shortness of breath, vomiting and skin rashes.

SANA on Saturday said Turkey had fired several shells containing “toxic substances” on a village.

France to retaliate if chemical weapons used

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday said that “France will strike” if chemical weapons were used against civilians in Syria, but that he was yet to see proof of their use.

In May 2017, Macron said he had set a “red line” at the use of chemical weapons.

Following Macron’s warning, the Syrian government denied it possessed chemical weapons, saying they were “immoral and unacceptable,” SANA reported.

A call from the United Nations for a nationwide humanitarian ceasefire in Syria has largely been ignored.

law/jm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW’s editors send out a selection of the day’s hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.


Netanyahu and Macron spar over Jerusalem and approach to peace

French President Emmanuel Macron has called on Israel’s prime minister to make “brave gestures” toward the Palestinian people. The two leaders fundamentally disagreed over the US decision on Jerusalem.

French President Emmanuel Macron (L) welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Getty Images/AFP/L. Marin)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made his first trip abroad, to Paris, since US President Donald Trump announced last week that the US would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, drawing international condemnation and sparking violent protests across the Middle East and beyond.

Standing side-by-side with French President Emmanuel Macron during a post-meeting press conference on Sunday, Netanyahu attempted to strike a conciliatory tone, calling the French leader an indispensable leader in the quest for peace in the Middle East.

Watch video02:50

DW correspondent Tania Krämer in Jerusalem

Even as thousands of Israelis protested against Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, the prime minister insisted he was open to peace talks with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. And he stole a line from John Lennon, saying he wanted to “give peace a chance.”

Macron agreed that the Israelis and Palestinians should push for peace, which is why he opposes the US declaration on Jerusalem.

“We can only succeed when people talk,” Macron said. “I fully agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu, let’s give peace a chance.”

That is why, he said, “I disapprove of Trump’s declaration; as much as it is against international law. There is no contradiction there. It isn’t good for the security of Israel.”

Macron urged Netanyahu to freeze Israeli settlement building during their one-on-one talks.

“Freezing settlement building and confidence measures with regard to the Palestinian Authority are important acts to start with,” he said.

Urged to show courage

During the press conference, Macron urged the prime minister “to show courage in his dealings with the Palestinians to get us out of the current dead end.”

Netanyahu, however, insisted that Jerusalem belongs solely to the Jewish people.

“Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years, and you can read that in a number of places, including the Bible,” he said.

Watch video01:46

US Jerusalem move draws protests, condemnation

Eventually, Netanyahu sought to shift the discussion to Iran, saying that a precondition for peace is recognizing the right of your opponent to exist. Iran has frequently called for Israel’s destruction.

Netanyahu lashed out at the Iranian regime, which he said poses an existential threat to Israel, citing their presence in neighboring countries.

“Iran is all over the place,” he said. “They’re in Iraq, they’re in Syria and they’re in Lebanon, where the president is valiantly trying to change the situation.”

“They’re in Gaza, and in Yemen,” he continued. “We have to do what we can to stop Iran. Iran wants to entrench itself militarily with land, air and sea forces in Syria. We will not accept that.”

“They’re also putting precision-guided-missiles in Lebanon, thousands of them, that could be a great danger to Israel,” he said. “We won’t tolerate that.”


Slave markets in ‘liberated’ Libya and the silence of the humanitarian hawks

Neil Clark
Neil Clark is a journalist, writer, broadcaster and blogger. He has written for many newspapers and magazines in the UK and other countries including The Guardian, Morning Star, Daily and Sunday Express, Mail on Sunday, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, New Statesman, The Spectator, The Week, and The American Conservative. He is a regular pundit on RT and has also appeared on BBC TV and radio, Sky News, Press TV and the Voice of Russia. He is the co-founder of the Campaign For Public Ownership @PublicOwnership. His award winning blog can be found at He tweets on politics and world affairs @NeilClark66
Slave markets in ‘liberated’ Libya and the silence of the humanitarian hawks
The reports that black Africans are being sold at slave markets in ‘liberated’ Libya for as little as $400 is a terrible indictment of the so-called ‘humanitarian intervention’ carried out by NATO to topple the government of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

In March 2011 virtue-signaling Western ‘liberal’ hipsters teamed up with hardcore neocon warmongers to demand action to ‘save’ the Libyan people from the ‘despotic’ leader who had ruled the country since the late 1960s. “Something has to be done!” they cried in unison.

Something was done. Libya was transformed by NATO from the country with the highest Human Development Index in the whole of Africa in 2009 into a lawless hell-hole, with rival governments, warlords and terror groups fighting for control of the country.

Under Gaddafi, Libyans enjoyed free health care and education. Literacy rates went up from around 25 percent to almost 90 percent. A UN Human Rights Council report on Libya from January 2011, in which member states praised welfare provision, can be read here.

It was clear that while there were still areas of concern the country was continuing to make progress on a number of fronts.

In the Daily Telegraph – hardly a paper which could be accused of being an ideological supporter of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya – Libya was hailed as one of the top six exotic cruise ship destinations in June 2010.

Cruise ships don’t have Libya on their itineraries today. It’s far too dangerous.

The only surprising thing about the return of slave markets (and it’s worth pointing out that before the CNN report, the UN agency, IOM also reported on their existence in Libya earlier this year) is that anyone should be surprised by it. Human rights and social progress usually go back hundreds of years whenever a NATO ‘humanitarian’ intervention takes place. And that’s not accidental. The ‘interventions,’ which purposely involve heavy bombing of the country’s infrastructure and the subsequent dismantling of the state apparatus are designed to reverse decades of social progress. The ‘failure to plan’ is actually the most important part of the plan, as my fellow OpEdger Dan Glazebrook details in his book Divide and Destroy – The West’s Imperial Strategy in an Age of Crisis.

‘Three countries, three continents: One imperial Western project’ (Op-Edge by @NeilClark66 

Three countries, three continents: One imperial Western project — RT Op-Edge

A resource-rich, socialist-led, multi-ethnic secular state, with an economic system characterized by a high level of public/social ownership and generous provision of welfare, education and social…

Libya was targeted, like Yugoslavia and Iraq before it, not because of genuine concerns that ‘another Srebrenica’ was about to take place, (note the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee report of September 2016 held that ‘the proposition that Muammar Gaddafi would have ordered the massacre of civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence’) but because it was a resource-rich country with an independently-minded government which operated a predominantly state-owned socialistic economy in a strategically important part of the world.

Neither Libya, Iraq or Yugoslavia did the bidding of the West’s endless war lobby, which is why they were earmarked for destruction. The chaos which routinely follows a NATO regime change op is a ghastly experience for the locals, who see their living standards plummet and their risk of violent death in a terrorist attack greatly increase, but great for rapacious Western corporations who then move in to the ‘liberated’ country en masse, taking advantage of the lack of a strong central authority.

Of course, this is never mentioned in NATO-friendly media. The role of the Western elites in turning previously functioning welfare states into failed states is missing from most mainstream reports on the countries post ‘liberation.’

In his recent piece for FAIR, journalist Ben Norton noted how reports “overwhelmingly spoke of slavery in Libya as an apolitical and timeless human rights issue, not as a political problem rooted in very recent history.

The dominant narrative is that slave markets have re-emerged in Libya ‘as if by magic,’just like Mr. Benn’s shopkeeper. The country’s ’instability’ is mentioned, but not the cause of that instability, namely the violent overthrow of the country’s government in 2011 and the Western backing of extremist, and in some cases blatantly racist, death squads. Everyone is blamed for the mess except the powerful, protected people and lobbyists who are ultimately responsible.

The French government played a leading role in the destruction of Libya in 2011, yet today the French president, the ‘progressive’ Emmanuel Macron blames ‘Africans’ for the country’s slavery problem. “Who are the traffickers? Ask yourselves – being the African youth – that question. You are unbelievable. Who are the traffickers? They are Africans, my friends. They are Africans.

Macron, like other Western leaders, wants us to see the slavery issue in close-up, and not in long-shot. Because if we do, NATO comes into the picture.

There is similar whitewashing over Iraq and the rise of ISIS. Again, we are supposed to regard the group’s emergence as “just one of those things.” But ISIS was not a force when the secular Baathist Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq; it only grew following his ousting and the chaos which followed the occupiers’ dismantling of the entire state apparatus.

The result of intervening in Libya has been “disappointing at the very least”, says Observer leader, arguing against action in Syria. Balls.

Six-and-a-half years on, it’s revealing to look back at the things the cheerleaders for the ‘humanitarian intervention’ in Libya were saying in early 2011 and what actually happened as a result of NATO’s 26,500 sorties.

The price of inaction is too high” was the title of one piece by David Aaronovitch in The Times, dated March 18, 2011. “If we don’t bomb Gadaffi’s tanks, Europe is likely to face a wave of refugees and a new generation of jihadis,” was the synopsis.

Guess what? The West’s military alliance did bomb Gaddafi’s tanks (and a lot more besides) and we got “a wave of refugees” of Biblical proportions and “a new generation of jihadis,” including the Manchester Arena bomber, Salman Abedi.

But there’s been no mea culpa from Aaronovitch, nor from his Times colleague Oliver Kamm – who attacked me after I had penned an article in the Daily Express calling for NATO to halt its action.

In the Telegraph, Matthew d’Ancona wrote a piece entitled ‘Libya is Cameron’s chance to exorcise the ghost of Iraq.’

In fact, the experience of Iraq should have led all genuine humanitarians to oppose the NATO assault. In many ways, as John Wight argues here,

Libya was an even worse crime than the invasion of Iraq because it came afterward. There was really no excuse for anyone seeing how the ‘regime change’ operation of 2003 had turned out, supporting a similar venture in North Africa.

Unsurprisingly the politicians and pundits who couldn’t stop talking about Libya in 2011 and the West’s ‘responsibility to protect’ civilians seem less keen to talk about the country today.

Libya and its problems have vanished from the comment pages. It’s the same after every Western ‘intervention’: saturation coverage before and during the ‘liberation,’ bellicose calls from the totally unaccountable neocon/liberal punditocracy for military action to ‘save the people’ from the latest ‘New Hitler,’ and then silence afterwards as the country hurtles back in time to the Dark Ages.

The ‘liberators’ of Libya have moved on to other more important things in 2017, with Russophobia the current obsession. Anything, in fact, to distract us from the disastrous consequences of their actions.

Follow Neil Clark on Twitter @NeilClark66

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

Courtesy: RT

Next stop, Paris: The strange journey of Lebanon’s Saad Hariri

Next stop, Paris: The strange journey of Lebanon’s Saad Hariri
In early November, Lebanese PM Saad Hariri shocked the world by unexpectedly flying to Saudi Arabia and announcing his retirement. The Lebanese people suspected foul play on the part of Riyadh. Now they may finally have a chance to hear the full story.

In the latest twist in this incredible tale, Saad Hariri is expected to leave Saudi Arabia for France in several days before traveling to Beirut where he will reportedly formally resign as prime minister. To say Hariri’s return will be a momentous event would be a great understatement. Naturally, speculation is rife among Lebanese citizens that Hariri, a Sunni Muslim politician with strong bonds to Saudi Arabia, was coerced to quit.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun said Thursday that he looked forward to Hariri’s return following the latter’s acceptance of the French invitation. “I await the return of PM Hariri to Beirut so we can decide on the situation of the government – if he wants to resign or rescind his resignation,” Aoun said, according to presidential sources quoted by Reuters.

Earlier, French President Emmanuel Macron invited Hariri to France after speaking to him and the Saudi Crown Prince, the Elysee Palace said on Wednesday. Macron insisted that the invitation is not an offer of political exile.

The flight of Hariri

This sensational story began on November 3 when Hariri suddenly and without apparent warning boarded a flight from Beirut to Saudi Arabia. The next day, from the capital Riyadh, he announced his resignation, pointing to the “regional interference” of Iran and Hezbollah as the reason for his decision. He also said he feared assassination, which is certainly reasonable given that his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, was killed in a massive truck bombing in 2005.

Analysts are of the opinion that Riyadh had grown exasperated with Hariri’s power-sharing arrangement with Hezbollah. And with Iran and Hezbollah’s success in helping to defeat Islamic State terrorists in Syria, tossing President Bashar Assad a veritable lifeline, this was seen as the last straw.

Hariri’s flight to Saudi Arabia and subsequent resignation, however, was just one earthquake among many to rock the kingdom at about the same time.

On the evening of Hariri’s announcement, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) initiated an extraordinary anti-corruption raid, which led to the arrest of 11 princes, four ministers and many businessmen. The Riyadh Ritz Carlton has been converted into a luxury jailhouse to hold the detainees. In addition to tightly consolidating King Salman’s son’s grip on power, the move could potentially add $800 billion to Saudi coffers. There was probably hope in Riyadh that all of the events, taken together, would spark chaos on the streets of Lebanon. However, if that is the case, that effort failed, as has been the case with so many Riyadh initiatives of late. In fact, Lebanon seems to have been energized and united by the Hariri scandal.

“In one week of Hariri being in Saudi Arabia, the Lebanese PM has achieved more in unifying the Lebanese than he could ever have hoped for in a lifetime of politics,” Beirut-based journalist Martin Jay wrote in an RT opinion piece this week.

As if the purge of Saudi Arabia’s princedom and business elite were not enough, MbS began a dangerous saber-rattling display aimed at regional countries.

Saudi saber-rattling

Days after Hariri announced his resignation, Riyadh accused Lebanon of “declaring war on Saudi Arabia” because of purported “aggression” by the Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah. In reality, however, this was a poorly feigned attack on Iran, which for Riyadh is the real bugbear in this story.

Although Iran-Saudi relations have been strained for over a decade, things really took a turn for the worse in January 2016, following the execution of a prominent Saudi Shiite cleric.

Then, on June 7, 2017, Iran suffered its first terrorist outrage in a decade as Islamic State militants carried out attacks against the Iranian Parliament building and the Mausoleum of Ruhollah Khomeini, leaving 17 civilians dead and 43 wounded. Many Iranian officials suggested that the attacks were the work of “foreign governments,” including Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is beginning to suspect that it is being outmaneuvered in its ‘near abroad’ by Tehran, which now enjoys an arc of influence extending from Iraq to Lebanon, and beyond, as well as in the tiny outposts of Yemen and Qatar. Riyadh exaggerates the danger of this “Iranian influence,” while at the same time failing to recognize its flatfooted foreign policy as a major reason for its setbacks of late.

For example, in its three-year war against Yemen, which has already killed some 10,000 civilians, a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions is underway, threatening some 7 million Yemenis with starvation. The turbulent events of Nov.4 were partially designed, it seems, to shroud the Yemen breakdown.

As Saad Hariri issued his resignation from Riyadh, and Saudi princes and officials were being rounded up and arrested, the young Crown Prince, 32, said his military had intercepted a Houthi ballistic missile, launched from Yemen towards an international airport on the outskirts of the Saudi capital. Some analysts are of the opinion no rocket was ever fired. In any case, MbS blamed Iran for supplying the Houthi rebels with missiles.

“The involvement of the Iranian regime in supplying its Houthi militias with missiles is considered a direct military aggression by the Iranian regime,” MbS told UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in a telephone conversation. He added for good measure that the move “may be considered an act of war against the kingdom.”

At this point in our Arabian mystery, it cannot be denied that Riyadh is working closely with the United States and Israel. It did not go unnoticed, least of all by Iran, that US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, had paid a visit to the Crown Prince just one month before the November tumult began.

Although the contents of that meeting have never been made public, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, fired off a tweet that got no Trump response: “Visits by Kushner & Lebanese PM led to Hariri’s bizarre resignation while abroad. Of course, Iran is accused of interference.”

Judging by the secretive Kushner meeting, Riyadh appears to be working as a proxy of sorts for the region’s real power-brokers, the United States and Israel.

“We don’t know if the Saudis are playing a game whereby they will let Hariri go back to Lebanon as a reminder… that they can go to any extreme to remove power from him,” Beirut-based Martin Jay told RT via telephone.

Now it remains to be seen if Saad Hariri and his family will remain a long-term guest of Emmanuel Macron in Paris, or if he will, as promised, continue on to the next leg of his mysterious journey back to Lebanon, where he will certainly be the center of attention from all sides.

Robert Bridge, RT


Courtesy: RT

Macron’s eurozone plans put eastern EU members on the spot

French President Emmanuel Macron is impatient to reinvigorate the eurozone. But this poses a dilemma for the EU’s eastern members: stay out and risk losing clout in Brussels or join and risk losing economic sovereignty?

USA Präsident Macron vor der UN-Vollversammlung (Reuters/S. Stapleton)

Macron reiterated his view this week that a multi-speed Europe led by a core of ‘avant-garde’ countries could be the price worth paying for pushing the eurozone — and the European project more widely — forward in the aftermath of the Brexit vote.

“We should imagine a Europe of several formats — going further with those who want to advance, while not being held back by states which want to progress slower or not as far,” Macron said.

“It appears that Macron would like a tighter, more centralized eurozone with France and Germany at its heart,” Liam Carson of Capital Economics told DW. “However, he remained fairly vague on euro-zone specifics, probably because of the worse than expected outcome for [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel in the German election.”

But Macron’s words have fallen on some deaf ears in Central and Eastern Europe, a region struggling with political uncertainty and growing Euroskepticism, despite continued strong growth.

Of the nine new member states that joined the EU in 2004-2009, the Baltic countries, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus and Malta have adopted the euro, while Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia have not yet done so.

Critics argue that speeding up the process of monetary — as a precursor to fiscal — integration might fuel the overheating that was seen in Southern Europe after the 2007-8 financial crisis and subsequent recession.

But, “if the eurozone can generate growth throughout the 19 nations and not just the center, then any new institutions may prompt the non-euro members to want to join. If not, then the divisions would surely widen,” Linda Yueh, a professor of Economics at London Business School, told DW.

Watch video01:16

ECB policy seen as less than stimulating

‘It’s now or never’

Will Hutton, a British economist, told DW that while a two-speed Europe is a risk, “the time has come for this. Macron’s plans are the biggest boost to Europe since the early 1990s, the era of Jacques Delors.”

“Sure, Macron is using Merkel’s weakness, but Europe is on the cusp of an economic run and while some eastern European economies might not be able to stand the pace, Europe can’t go on at the speed of the slowest for much longer,” Hutton said, adding that the UK might even be knocking back on the EU’s door in the next five to ten years.

All non-euro EU member states except Denmark and the UK are already legally obligated to work toward adopting the euro, by satisfying various “convergence criteria,” namely:

Inflation — Member states should have an average rate of inflation that doesn’t exceed that of the three best-performing member states by over 1.5 percent for a period of one year before being assessed.

Government budgets — Member states’ ratio of planned or actual government deficit to GDP should be no more than three percent. Their ratio of government debt to GDP should be no more than 60 percent.

Exchange Rates — Member states should have respected the normal fluctuation margins of the exchange rate mechanism (ERM) and should not have devalued their currency against any other member state’s currency for at least the two years before being assessed.

Interest rates — Member states should have had an average interest rate over a period of one year before being assessed that does not exceed by more than two percentage points that of the three best-performing member states.

Central & Eastern Europe: weary and ​​​​​wary 

“It seems unlikely that any of the major economies in Central and Eastern Europe will adopt the euro any time soon,” Carson says.

“With respect to the criteria, as things stand, Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic all meet the debt, interest rate and inflation criteria for joining,” although he added that there is a good chance that loose fiscal policy in Poland and Romania will cause budget deficits to widen beyond the 3 percent of GDP threshold by next year.

“Hungary’s deficit could also widen beyond 3 percent of GDP and with public debt still well above 60 percent of GDP, it also fails the debt criteria.”

“More importantly, political appetite for joining the euro is generally waning. Accession to the eurozone in Poland and Hungary is unlikely to happen under the ruling PiS (Law and Justice) and Fidesz governments, which have both become increasingly hostile towards EU oversight of domestic policy,” Carson says.

“Poland’s opposition is based on ideological grounds, but also public support is not sufficient. In the Czech Republic the main obstacle is public support. Most of the parties would have been open to introducing the euro, but public opinion has prevented that so far. In Hungary there is strong public support and a governmental decision ahead of the 2018 elections might be a popular step,” Daniel BarthaExecutive Director of the Center for Euro-Atlantic Integration and Democracy (CEID)  in Budapest, told DW.

The Palace of Culture and Science in WarsawPoliticians in Warsaw have warned that the creation of a multi-speed Europe could “break apart” the EU.


“Brexit is not a risk for the EU … A bigger threat is if the EU starts to break apart into a multi-speed union, into blocs where some are stronger and can decide about others,” President Andrzej Duda said this month. “The result could be a divided EU that’s not politically or economically viable, which may break apart the bloc,” he added.

The bedrock of common understanding that Merkel and ex-Polish PM Donald Tusk shared is now long gone. And ties between Warsaw and Paris have been strained since August after Macron’s speech criticizing what he called Warsaw’s attack on democracy and a French plan to tighten rules on EU posted workers, such as Polish truck drivers.

The Law and Justice (PiS) government has also taken aim at Germany, demanding war reparations, attacking plans to build a second Nord Stream gas pipeline to Russia that bypasses Poland and being highly critical of its western neighbor’s policies towards refugees.

Nonetheless, Poland will start to debate whether to join the eurozone when the bloc becomes a stable and transparent entity, Konrad Szymanski, the Polish deputy foreign minister in charge of European affairs, has said.

About 80 percent of Polish international trade is accountable in euros, so entering the eurozone will significantly decrease currency risk and simplify transactions with foreign companies. Despite this, over two-thirds of Poles oppose joining the euro area.

Prague, the Czech capitalA general election to be held October 20-21, will show whether the Czechs will seek to join the EU hard core.

Czech Republic

The Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka wants his country to set a date for the adoption of the euro and has “the ambition to belong among the most advanced European countries.”

The Czech Republic has been cautious about joining the euro, on both the left and the right. No firm date has been set and in recent years governments have shied away from making predictions.

The country has a long reputation for running a credible monetary policy and traditionally has had interest rates below those in the eurozone.

“In the Czech Republic, Andrej Babis, who is the heavy favourite to become Prime Minister following next month’s elections, has continued to strongly reiterate that the Czech Republic shouldn’t adopt the currency,” according to Carson.


Hungarian economic policy cannot abandon its long-term intention of joining the eurozone, “but there is no rush,” the economy minister, Mihaly Varga, said in June. Vargo said a currency system where monetary policy is unified but fiscal policy is not is also a viable route.

But a senior Hungarian politician said in early August that Hungary could only consider adopting the euro when its level of economic development is closer to that of the eurozone countries.

“That is, if there is genuine convergence,” Andras Tallai, state secretary at the economy ministry, said.

Hungarian parliament bulilding is seen as ice floes float on the Danube river in Budapest In 2013, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán proclaimed euro adoption would not happen until the country’s purchasing power parity weighted GDP per capita had reached 90 percent of the eurozone average.

“Otherwise, Hungary could be the loser of accession similar to some Mediterranean countries,” he went on, adding that Hungary won’t yet enter the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) — a kind of ante-chamber for eurozone aspirants — but already meets all of the Maastricht criteria for adopting the euro, with the exception of the forint not being pegged to the euro.

Hungary has to enter to the ERM2 (the exchange rate mechanism) and meet the criteria for 2 years constantly. Hungary meets all other criteria: inflation was 0.1 percent, the deficit 2.4 percent and interest rates are also around 1 percent, and although the debt level is beyond the 60 percent limit, as it is constantly reducing, Hungary also meet that criterion.


Former Romanian Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu has said Romania will adopt the euro only after wages in the country come close to those in other EU member states.

Romania has second lowest minimum monthly wage out of 20 EU member states, of 1,450 lei ($341/321 euro), after Bulgaria, according to a study by KPMG.

A study conducted last November by the European Institute of Romania showed that the country could join the Eurozone 13 years from now – if it sustains the average growth rate of the last 15 years.

Currently, Romania is below 60 percent of the European Union average in terms of GDP per capita.

“The story is slightly different in Romania. The foreign minister, Teodor Melescanu, recently announced that Romania will adopt the euro. However, he stated that this won’t happen until 2022. And given that previous plans to adopt the euro have been shelved, this date could easily be delayed. In short, Romania won’t become a member of the euro-zone any time soon,” Carson says.

Frankreich PK Migrationsgipfel in Paris (Reuters/C. Platiau)Angela Merkel is supporting Macron’s call for a new powerful eurozone finance minister post to oversee economic policy across the bloc. She said the new role could provide “greater coherence” to economic policy.

Merkel holds the key

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also backed a plan for a European Monetary Fund (EMF) that would redistribute money within the bloc to where it was needed.

Macron believes that the monetary union suffers from too little centralization and needs its own budget, while Merkel views the bloc’s problem as over-centralization and too little national responsibility.

Merkel has backed her Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble‘s proposal to turn the European Stability Mechanism, the eurozone’s bailout fund, into the EMF, but she does not see the official possessing “expansive powers.”

Merkel has said she wants a budget of “small contributions” rather than “hundreds of billions of euros.”

France will implement these deep structural reforms on the proviso that Germany agrees to modest steps towards fiscal federalism in the eurozone. But many in Germany — and far beyond as well — appear skeptical about Macron’s ability to achieve his domestic goals.

Still, observers say, Merkel will want to help Macron politically as it is in Germany’s interests to see that he is not replaced at the next presidential election in France by Marine Le Pen of the National Front.

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Macron calls for more European unity