But the Friday meeting was the first encounter between the two European leaders since Germany struggled to solidify a government before Merkel was ultimately sworn in for a fourth term as chancellor. Although she won reelection, her hold on power is not as strong as it once was, and some of her allies balk at the idea of Germany, Europe’s strongest economy, mutualizing debts with countries in more complicated financial situations.
Macron used a bilateral news conference to emphasize that France has already made significant progress reforming its labor market — the same reforms Germans had previously said were necessary before any European-level reforms could be entertained.
“For years, Germany waited for France to carry out its reforms,” Macron said. “France has made them these last months, in circumstances previously unseen and with willingness. And we will continue to put them in place.”
On her side, Merkel spoke on a general level, emphasizing the need to act together.
“We want to find a path,” she said.
Her finance minister, Olaf Scholz, in a meeting with Bruno Le Maire, Macron’s finance minister, said much the same. “We need to integrate further,” he told reporters.
But the actual extent of Merkel’s commitment on the issue remains unclear for the moment. This week, she said that Germany will increase its contributions to the E.U. budget, but without accepting guarantees for other countries’ liabilities.
“What we don’t want is, so to speak, to mix up liabilities and responsibility, or rather to simply mutualize debt, without becoming competitive. Nothing will change in that regard,” she said on German television Wednesday, appearing to address concerns at home.
Elsewhere in Europe, there were also signs of frustration over what other leaders are likening to a Franco-German edict, a slew of reforms that no one besides Merkel and Macron were seriously consulted in devising.
“We have freedom of movement in the E.U., and of course the German government can meet the French government without us being there. But that doesn’t mean that we and other E.U. countries agree with everything the Germans and French agree on,” Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, told Der Spiegel on Friday. “We won’t just nod along to everything.”
There is also the outcome of the Italian election this month, a contest which right-wing populist parties won to form a hung parliament. That result will also probably complicate any attempt to achieve a speedier monetary union.
Beck reported from Berlin.