German finance minister Olaf Scholz arrives at a cabinet meeting in Berlin, Germany, November 28 2018. Picture: REUTERS/FABRIZIO BENSCH
German finance minister Olaf Scholz arrives at a cabinet meeting in Berlin, Germany, November 28 2018. Picture: REUTERS/FABRIZIO BENSCH

Berlin — German finance minister Olaf Scholz has proposed that France give up its permanent seat on the UN Security Council and turn it into an EU seat to allow the bloc to speak with one voice on the global stage.

“I realise this will take some convincing in Paris, but it would be a bold and smart goal,” Scholz said in a wide-ranging Berlin speech on the future of the EU.

To lessen the pain of losing the powerful seat, France could become “the permanent EU ambassador to the UN”, added Scholz, who is also Germany’s vice-chancellor.

France has been one of the five permanent council members since the body was first established in 1945 in the wake of World War 2 to prevent another large-scale conflict.

The permanent members, including Britain, China, Russia and the US, are the most influential countries in the 193-member UN because they hold the right to veto UN resolutions.

There have been repeated calls in the past to reform the UN Security Council, with large emerging nations in particular clamouring for a place at the table.

In 2010, then-US president Barack Obama voiced support for India’s efforts to become a permanent Security Council member. Brazil and Japan have expressed similar ambitions, while African nations have called for two permanent seats to better represent a continent they say has been historically overlooked.

French President Emmanuel Macron called on legislators in the German parliament in October to help create a “stronger, more sovereign Europe”.

“Europe cannot play its role if it becomes the plaything of great powers and contents itself with a supporting role on the global stage,” he said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed Macron’s speech, saying Europe was “at a crossroads” over its future. In the past, she and foreign minister Heiko Maas have both called for individual EU countries’ seats on the UN Security Council to be Europeanised.

When Germany was selected to hold one of the 10 non-permanent seats for two years from January 2019, Maas promised Berlin “would interpret it in a European way”.

“We want to show that we take the common European seat seriously. Because that remains our aim,” he said.

Scholz’s  sally on Wednesday was the latest way Germany has sought to dispel accusations it has failed to respond to Macron’s ambitious hopes to reform the EU and the euro single currency.

While German leaders appear open to deeper co-operation in fields like defence, many have deep reservations about Macron’s plans to equip the eurozone with a centrally-managed budget, fearing wealthy countries could end up footing spendthrift neighbours’ bills.