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Macron ‘happy’ Merkel coalition deal in sight

Paris, France | AFP | French President Emmanuel Macron said Friday he was “happy and very satisfied” that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had achieved a breakthrough with the Social Democrats on her bid to form a coalition.

Macron, who had pressed the Social Democrats (SPD) to return to a grand coalition with Merkel’s conservatives, said the blueprint was “more favourable” for his vision of a reformed EU than an earlier agreement that was discussed — then abandoned — between Merkel and the pro-business FDP party.

“I am happy and very satisfied that Mrs Merkel can advance on forming a coalition government which will be useful and which is awaited by Europe, particularly France,” Macron said during a press conference with visiting Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

While urging caution until the deal had been ratified by the parties’ rank-and-file, Macron said it hoped it would yield a “strong and stable government” led by Merkel.

Macron has set out ambitious vision for European reforms, including having a separate eurozone budget and finance minister — ideas that have been warmly received by the SPD but to which the fiscally prudent Merkel has reacted cautiously.

On Friday, Macron continued to argue in favour of a eurozone budget, but said it was too soon to say whether this would be included in the final German coalition deal.

He said he and 31-year-old Kurz, a conservative who formed a government with the anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPOe) in December, had found common ground during their talks in Paris.

Austria is the only Western European nation with far-right ministers in government.

Kurz, who some German newspapers have dubbed the “anti-Macron”, has voiced resistance to the Frenchman’s calls for more solidarity among eurozone members.

He has also baulked about transferring more powers to Brussels saying it should concentrate on defence and security and leave subjects “of lesser importance” to national and regional governments.

Macron said the two had talked at length about a “more democratic, more united and sovereign Europe” and found “points of convergence” on European integration.

Kurz’s choice of Paris for his first official bilateral visit was seen as a sign of his possible willingness to compromise.

In an interview with Le Figaro newspaper Friday Kurz said he hoped Austria could act as a “bridge” between Western Europe and Central European countries, such as Hungary, which have refused to accept EU migrant quotas.

In a clear overture to Macron Friday, he said: “We would be pleased if next to the great Franco-German axis there could be a small Franco-Austrian axis,” he said.

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