Merkel ordered Hollande to keep Macron out of EU negotiations after tense clash

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The top EU leaders have mostly played a united front when it comes to European policy. One of the few exceptions was in 2015, when Mr Macron was the French economy minister in Mr Hollande’s government. As he tried to help Greece avoid crippling austerity measures, Mrs Merkel decided to freeze him out of the negotiations, it has been claimed.

The confrontation, which came at the height of the 2015 Greek debt crisis, was noted in “Adults in the Room”, the memoir of Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister who tried to win debt relief for Athens.

Mr Macron, an ardent pro-European, formed a strong bond with Mr Varoufakis, as he believed the crippling austerity being inflicted on Greece in return for bailouts could lead to the ultimate destruction of the eurozone.

On June 28, 2015, with Greece’s bank on the cusp of closure, Mr Varoufakis wrote that he received a text from Mr Macron offering to broker a last-minute deal to win debt-relief for Greece in return for structural reforms.

Offering to broker a meeting between the Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras and former French President Francois Hollande, Mr Macron wrote: “I do not want my generation to be the one responsible for Greece exiting Europe.”

The attempt, however, was blocked by then-German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble, who wanted Greece to take a “holiday” from membership of the euro.

Three months later, after Mr Varoufakis had resigned in protest at the Greek government’s capitulation to its troika of creditors, Mr Macron explained that the German leader had elbowed him aside after he had called the Greek debt deal a “modern-day version of the Versailles Treaty”.

Mr Varoufakis wrote: “Merkel had heard him and, according to Emmanuel, ordered Hollande to keep Macron out of the Greek negotiations.

“Merkel’s spell was every bit as powerful as I had imagined.”

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In an earlier episode, though, Mr Macron did manage to persuade Mrs Merkel to order the Eurogroup creditors to compromise with Greece, leading to the brokering of a respite period for Greece in February of that year, which proved short-lived.

Mr Macron also reportedly persuaded Mrs Merkel to push for a Recovery Fund to help the European economy back on its feet last year.

Berlin had always opposed the idea that money from such a fund would be distributed in the form of non-refundable grants rather than loans.

For Germany, that smacked too much of fiscal transfers from richer to poorer EU states — taboo in Berlin.

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A French official told the Financial Times: “The whole thing being in grants is pretty good.

“I’m not sure we were fully expecting that.”

One senior adviser to Mrs Merkel’s CDU tried to explain the U-turn, saying: “The big concern is that the economic crisis will destroy the European single market and even threaten the future of the EU.”

She added that the Chancellor needed a “grand gesture” to prove she had not abandoned southern European nations hit hard by the virus.

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