The French and German economy ministers, in a joint statement to be published in European newspapers Thursday, call for a
strengthened eurozone with a common budgetary mechanism and tools to avoid the kind of debt problems Greece is suffering.
“It's time to strengthen the eurozone by way of the EU's biggest reform,” Emmanuel Macron and his German counterpart Sigmar Gabriel said in the comments published by France's Le Figaro, Britain's The Guardian, Germany's Die Welt, Spain's El Pais and other European dailies.
“France and Germany have the responsibility to lead the way. Europe cannot wait any longer,” said Macron and Gabriel, Germany's vice chancellor.
The German and French ministers also stressed that “a stronger eurozone should be the core of a deepened EU.”
The current set up has “faults” which must be repaired “so that the euro maintains its promise of economic prosperity and, more broadly, prevents Europe from drifting towards discontent and divisions,” the French and German ministers said.
The call comes as indebted Greece's eurozone partners and its creditors in the EU and the International Monetary Fund seek a deal by Friday, when Athens must repay 300 million euros to the IMF as part of a multi-billion euro bailout deal.
It also comes as British Prime Minister David Cameron seeks EU reforms and “a better deal for Britain” ahead of an in-out membership referendum he has promised by 2017.
“From one border of the European Union, Greece, to the other, the United Kingdom, the European ideal is being challenged,” said the ministers.
“We must reconcile general European interests and national interests,” they added, alluding to “anti-European forces” developing in some EU nations.
In a clear message to Cameron and the eurosceptics in his Conservative Party, the ministers said: “Our common goal is to render it unthinkable for any country in pursuit of its national interest to consider a future without Europe – or within a lesser union.”
Cameron has said that he is not against greater integration among eurozone countries and that the UK wouldn't stand in the way, but he has vowed to renegotiate Britain's ties with the EU in a bid to win back some powers from Brussels.
French economy ministry sources said that the initiative to better knit the eurozone had two main strands: a common budget capacity and solidarity mechanisms to be rapidly available to help “countries in difficulty”.
The pair talked of a “structural reforms” and of “social and tax convergence where necessary” pointing specifically to minimum wages and harmonized corporate tax with the aim of establishing “a truly level playing field.”
The ministers said: “strengthening the euro is not only about the eurozone. It cannot be isolated from a broader rethinking of the EU.”
Macron and Gabriel, who is also Germany's vice chancellor, called for “an embryo euro area budget” and “a fiscal capacity over and above national budgets” to act as economic stabilisers.
This could mean, for example, a common fund to quickly help national economies in difficulty, a French ministry source said.
For the wider EU of 28 nations they propose “new steps” towards a better integrated internal market with a targeted approach in some key sectors, such as energy and hi-tech.
There was also talk of the need to create a “stronger sense of community” within the EU.
“Institutional legitimacy arises from closer links between citizens.”