When the leaders of France and Germany hold a working dinner tonight at Elysée Palace in Paris, much of what the European Union stands for will be on the table. For German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the dinner will be her last official tête-à-tête with French President Emmanuel Macron. She steps down after the Sept. 26 elections in Germany. During her 16 years in office – and after consulting with four different French presidents – Ms. Merkel has made sure the bloc’s two most powerful economies work in tandem to protect Europe’s postwar project of peace.
The future of the 27-nation union so depends on French-German consensus that two of the leading candidates to replace Ms. Merkel in Berlin visited Mr. Macron in recent days to show their pro-EU credentials. And she has done such a good job at keeping the EU unified during difficult crises that a plurality of the French would choose her as EU president over Mr. Macron, according to a recent poll.
Yet the same poll also found most Germans do not see their country as the EU’s leading power. It is precisely this odd-couple harmony between Europe’s two giants that helps the EU remain a beacon for democratic values.
France, especially under Mr. Macron, has had a strong vision for Europe’s future, such as his idea of a military force to match the United States’. Germany, especially under Ms. Merkel, seeks to simply defend and solidify the EU against internal rifts, such as Brexit and the euro crisis. The two leaders have accepted a co-responsibility to overcome their differences, resulting in their nickname “Merkron.”
Their respect toward each other and ability to speak as one reflect the very qualities that have suppressed the kind of militant nationalism that led to two world wars and then the need for the EU. Their dinner tonight will focus on a few tough issues, such as Afghanistan and a terrorist threat in North Africa. Tackling those issues will be made easier by leaders who practice active peacemaking between their countries.