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November 08, 2019

Rethinking security - Macron edition

Emmanuel Macron is the first European leader in this century who is ready to push an agenda for the future of the EU. His comments in the Economist caused a ruckus yesterday among those, especially in the Anglosphere, who are not used to this kind of narrative. Their favourite EU bedtime story has been one of happily co-existing sovereign member states that pool sovereignty when it is in their advantage; of eternally blissful EU enlargement; and of the EU as a deeply integrated trading block. Our own narrative about Europe has also been different one from that, but also different from Macron's in his early days as president. He misjudged Germany and Angela Merkel. But, as he smartens up, we find ourselves increasingly aligned with his views on what the EU needs to do in the post-Merkel era. This debate is not between pro-Europeans and eurosceptics. This is a debate among pro-Europeans - about what the EU should actually do. 

We have a separate story below on Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer's speech on defence. This is best understood in the context of Macron's comments. Macron's characterisation of Nato as brain-dead is brutal but realistic. There can be no question that Art. 5 of the Nato treaty is little more than an optical illusion. President Donald Trump has cast doubt on it, and so has Frank-Walter Steinmeier. When he was Germany's foreign minister, he said Germany would under no circumstances ever commit troops to fight against Russia. A combination of American reluctance, German exceptionalism and uncoordinated Turkish aggression has left Nato as an empty shell. Time to move on.

The argument in favour of a separate European defence identity is simple and compelling. The world outside has become more hostile. China poses challenges of a very different kind. And Brexit and the rise of nationalism have weakened the EU internally. 

We see many parallels with the monetary union. We always though it was a tragic coincidence of timing that the EU changed its narrative on integration just after it introduced the euro. It wasted a whole decade on enlargement and deluding itself about the need to become more competitive, a toxic misunderstanding that caused internal and external imbalances that ultimately gave rise to financial stress. Twenty years on, we are still debating deposit insurance when we should really be talking about how to deploy the euro and a European safe asset as foreign policy tools. 

Macron's strategy consists of changing that narrative, and as the reaction yesterday shows, it is causing disorientation. We noted a comment by Paul Krugmann, whose narrative is also not in sync with the pro-European consensus. In a column in which he tried hard to debunk some Americans myths about Europe, he ended up predicting that the eurozone is the most likely source of the next global financial crisis. 

We are encouraged to see that alternative narratives about the future of Europe are gaining more traction. The odds are perhaps not great. If the EU succeeds, it will involve a smaller group of countries than the EU27, with the eurozone and a defence union as its core. There can be no concentric cycles as the euro itself will become a central part of a future security strategy. The EU has the instruments. It will need to find a way to deploy them.

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November 08, 2019

Rethinking defence - AKK edition

Emmanuel Macron's interview in the Economist got all the headlines yesterday. But, in substance, the keynote speech by Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer on the future of German defence may have been the more important event. As we wrote above, the two should be read together to understand the significance of the shift in thinking that is currently ongoing in European security policy.

AKK, as she is known, has challenged the evolving German consensus on defence with a clarity that has been absent during the debate in the past. She is supporting the 2% defence spending target, and set 2031 as a new target date. She criticised Germany's beggar-thy-neighbour mindset on security, and its tendency not to engage in international debates. Her security priorities are focused on digital technology and communications infrastructure. She left no doubt about her disagreement with Angela Merkel on Huawei. Companies that are forced to share data with a foreign government cannot be allowed to own critical pieces of the European data infrastructure, she said. Her main point is that Germany needs to take a more active approach to national and global security, and become less inward-looking.

It is interesting that Macron and AKK are pushing in the same direction - away from Merkel. AKK is calling for a fundamental reform of Germany's political security infrastructure - a national security council and streamlined procedures in the Bundestag to give the green light for troop deployment. She promised to use Germany's EU presidency in the second half of 2020 to strengthen the European arm within Nato. Looking at the entire catalogue of proposals - FAZ has a good summary this morning - one realises the sheer scale of the undertaking.

This is going to be a generational project, and for now a very unpopular one. AKK's own popularity continues to slide. The CDU leader and German defence minister is now one of Germany's least popular politicians. Her chances of becoming her party's official candidate for the succession of Merkel are not looking good. But we think it is still a potentially smart choice for her to be identified with a new policy, which will give her an agenda for the 2020s. Sacrificing a candidacy is a price worth paying. Both Helmut Kohl and Merkel herself allowed others to come forward first, before they were ready. AKK is not ready yet, but she has found a political theme.

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