The European Union is viewed by most as a democratic union of 28 members. That is what its core treaties say and that is what its key spokespeople say. However, the bloc, and its predecessor versions, have always relied upon Germany and France as its anchor tenants.
It was the French wartime hero and later President Charles de Gaulle who famously told German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer in 1963 that “Europe is France and Germany; the rest are just the trimmings”.
More than half a century later, de Gaulle’s comment still appears to be somewhat relevant.
At the end of August, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron met in a medieval island fortress in the Mediterranean to establish the next steps for their partnership, which is arguably the driving force behind the bloc.
Inside the walls of Fort de Brégançon – the traditional summer residence of French leaders – Mrs Merkel and Mr Macron attempted to tackle the most pressing issues on the global agenda, while seeking to cement progress on some long-standing objectives.
These included, according to two senior German government sources, deciding what relationship Europe should have with a resurgent China, re-imagining the shape of the EU after Britain’s exit, and carving out a role for Europe as a defence power to match its economic might.
One of the two German government sources said: “Both Merkel and Macron are aware that the EU is in a crucial period. And that France and Germany – even though they have different views on a lot of issues – have to stick together.”
In an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk, Ukip founder Alan Sked claimed Mrs Merkel, alongside the French leader, might actually be plotting something quite radical for the future of the bloc.
He said: “Macron has been a great advocate for a federal Europe.
“He has made great speeches, calling for Europe to be united and having a fiscal union, a monetary union, which includes a bank, one treasury, one finance minister and some sort of financial parliament.
“Merkel and the Germans don’t actually believe in that but Merkel is about to retire and the rumour is that she wants to have some kind of historical legacy because so far there is not very much she can claim as hers.”
Prof Sked added: “There is this persistent rumour that she would like to go down with some positive legacy and that she will do something about the fiscal union.
“I am not sure the Bundestag will accept it, though.”
In October, German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said the EU was already taking a step towards a fiscal union with its plans to recover from the coronavirus pandemic – which involve the European Commission borrowing in financial markets.
Mr Scholz told an interparliamentary conference on stability, economic coordination and governance in Brussels: “We are moving towards fiscal union, a major step forward in the financial capacity and sovereignty of the EU.”
To support the bloc’s economy, the EU has announced a €750billion (£678billion) recovery fund.
He added: “Markets have confidence in European policies and in the development of European economies.
“We should carry on with this course.”
Mrs Merkel will not run for her fifth term as Chancellor and is therefore expected to step down in 2021.