Views from the Capitals: Working with President Macron

By


INTRODUCTION

Emmanuel Macron has not only campaigned as an unabashed pro-European, but has placed Europe is at the core of both his domestic and international agendas.

Some of his key views are well known already. In particular, he has been an advocate of a Eurozone budget, managed by a Eurozone minister accountable to a Eurozone parliament. He has firm positions on Brexit, with a view to protecting the remaining members. He has made clear that he supports a more flexible Europe. He favours debt relief for Greece so as to keep Athens in the Eurozone. He suggested that he could support sanctions against Poland and Hungary in response to their breach of European values. And he has shown interest in new ideas to further democratise European politics.

For Macron, Europe is indispensable to shape the international environment, not just survive it. For his approach to succeed and rally the sceptics in France, he will have to convince in Berlin, and also to build coalitions and majorities within the EU around this renewed Franco-German engine. Insisting that if he were to fail, the EU would fail with him will not suffice to establish and implement the positive agenda current challenges require.

The key question as viewed from France is whether his approach (partly supported by Sigmar Gabriel in the past) can garner support in the European Union, and in Berlin in particular. Macron’s win was received with a sigh of relief across Europe, but what follows cannot be “politics as usual”. For Macron, other countries have to follow suit in order to help bring a definitive stop to the populist and anti-EU forces.

View from Berlin

by Josef Janning

Outside France, no country was more relieved than Germany at Emmanuel Macron’s victory. With Macron, erosion of the EU can be countered, whereas under Marine Le Pen it would have been accelerated. Like Germany, France will continue to be pro-integration and in favour of using the EU to pursue its political ambitions, so perhaps revitalisation of the Franco-German coalition is on the horizon.

In Berlin, Macron’s victory is seen as the most significant step in a row of public choices against nationalist populism. Beginning with the election of Alexander van der Bellen to the Presidency in Austria and the Dutch parliamentary elections, the failure of Front National to derail France and the EU signals that Germany’s ‘Europeanness’ still holds in other parts of the continent. At the same time, the German right wing party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is shrinking in the polls and has performed poorly in both of the recent state elections.

In Berlin, Macron’s campaign was endorsed by both large parties, mainly because he promised a break with the approach of François Hollande, who wanted to secure support from Germany and the EU before addressing the challenge of reform at home. Macron’s reforms, independent of European support, will be watched carefully by Berlin. Should he succeed, the willingness of German politicians to engage with France on common European projects will grow.

The scope of such projects has become a heated topic in the campaign rhetoric of both parties backing Macron. The Social Democrats vocally support Macron’s ideas about reforming Europe, through Eurobonds, a eurozone budget or common social policies, because it allows them to criticise Merkel’s EU policy. The Christian Democrats, on the other hand, mostly warn against mutualisation of debt or more German money for Europe. As EU affairs in Germany are largely in the hands of the Chancellor and the Minister of Finance, the roles are clearly defined. In this way, support for Macron represents a subtle way for the governing parties to attack each other.

Party politics aside, the German government shares Macron’s principal approach to Europe. Like Macron, Angela Merkel views the EU as a multiplier of Germany’s impact in Europe and beyond. Unlike Macron, however, Merkel takes an ultra-pragmatic approach to the EU policy process. She would like further integration, as does Macron, but through her years in office, she has acquired a profound scepticism of the power of vision in EU affairs. Macron believes in institutional reform to close the gap between Brussels and citizens, while Merkel believes in taking a delivery-focused approach to policy. Macron has sketched out his vision of a new economic deal for Europe, but Merkel’s view is dominated by the reluctance of the German voters to commit more resources to Europe.

When reforms get under way in France, the new German government will be open to exploring common approaches to economic growth, investments, and social equality. Though rarely acknowledged publicly, those in Berlin understand that Germany’s vast trade surplus should somehow help the EU to be sustainable. Still, the current and the incoming Chancellor will prefer to link new commitments to specific goals and policies rather than to spend broadly through EU programmes. A bilateral pact between the two countries to address future challenges together might be the preferable course of action. After all, the symbolism of Franco-German reconciliation still appeals to people on both sides of the river Rhine.

View from Madrid

by Borja Lasheras

The clear victory of Emmanuel Macron over Marine Le Pen in the French presidential elections has been welcomed with a sense of relief in Spain. France is a top strategic partner and key European ally for Spain. Hence, Macron’s victory gave rise to a newfound sense of opportunity for European integration at the governmental level and among other stakeholders – even if it is coupled with a large dose of caution.

Following years of economic crisis and domestic political turbulence, the conservative government of PM Mariano Rajoy is scaling up its efforts towards placing Spain back in the first rank of EU countries and upgrading its pro-EU credentials. This saw Spain join the mini-summit of Versailles in early March, together with France, Germany and Italy (the new “EU4” format).

Madrid is keen to advance integration in key areas, in several of which its interests align with those of France. This pertains particularly to the completion of the Economic and Monetary Union, as well as Common Security and Defence Policy. Spain is generally side by side with the French in pushing for further defence cooperation, for instance through the Permanent Structured Cooperation format, where both envisage a pace and benchmarks more ambitious than those currently entertained by the Germans.

There is hope that under Macron a more engaged France could give new impetus to integration –  under certain conditions also in a multispeed Europe. Spain’s government does not favour a piecemeal approach and frets about increased fragmentation of the EU. Instead, it contends that this push for integration should be part of a broader process towards revamping a political vision of Europe for our current age, able also to hollow out the case for Euro-phobic populism.

Yet, optimism in Madrid is tempered by awareness of the difficulties that Macron is up against, domestically and in Europe. Questions remain on how he and his government will balance the competing demands on the table. This wariness is reinforced by the widespread Spanish perception of France as a country inherently incapable of reforming its economy, public sector and labour laws.

This scepticism, together with occasional policy differences in the past, has put the government in Madrid closer to the Germans so far, and in a complex juggling act between Berlin and Paris. Spain and France have at times found themselves in opposed coalitions within Europe over the past years – with France acting as a stumbling block for Spanish key interests such as energy integration. Hopes in Madrid are high that, with Macron as French president, this might soon change. 

View from Rome

by Silvia Francescon

Macron’s victory is a breath of fresh air for Italy. Especially given the upcoming G7 in Taormina at the end of the month, and the fear of having Madame Le Pen at the Sicilian table, last Sunday Italy was a relief. From Head of State Mattarella to Prime Minister Gentiloni and Foreign Minister Alfano, all have welcomed Macron’s win as a breakthrough for Europe, a sign of hope and trust.

Macron has demonstrated to Italian politicians that winning does not have to mean going with the flow – his pro-EU platform stood in marked contrast to the national mood concerning European integration.  But whether this approach can be replicated in Italy is unclear: its success in France surely owed much to the extreme nature of the alternative, Marine Le Pen.

With the Franco-German engine expected to revive under Macron, Italy will be keen not to be left out of the core that will shape the decision making of a new Europe.  With this in mind, PM Gentiloni and President Macron will soon discuss areas of cooperation. They have much in common: both must implement a daunting list of domestic reforms concerning the labour market and economic competitiveness in order to boost stagnating economies.

They also share a similar view of Europe, and Gentiloni will likely support Macron’s push for the creation of a common EU budget and finance minister, as well as for further EU defence integration. Increasing funds for the Erasmus Programme and replacing the 73 UK MEPs with transnational candidates are further areas of common ground.

Thinking ahead to the G7 in Taormina, the new French President could be an Italian ally in efforts toward a more ambitious outcome on climate change, trade, migration and gender issues. They may differ, however, on some foreign policy dossiers, especially sanctions on Russia and the Balkans’ accession process.

Macron’s position that sanctions should be automatically renewed does not match with Italy’s. Rome wants, at the very least, a political discussion around sanctions, given that Russia is an important interlocutor for Europe on several regional and multilateral dossiers.  Conversely, Macron is much more cautious on Balkan accession, whereas Rome has always been an ardent supporter of these countries’ right to accession.

View from Sofia

by Vessela Tcherneva

After having been forced to form a coalition government with the nationalist Patriotic Front, Bulgaria’s prime minister Boiko Borisov will have noted with interest the success of Macron’s pro-European platform. Optimists hope that the new European trend of declining support for nationalists and xenophobes, of which France was the latest episode, will one day come to Bulgaria.

At the same time, Macron’s election should also put Bulgarian politicians on alert. His enthusiasm for flexible integration raises fears that Europe’s focus will now narrow, and that most energy for integration will be directed at eurozone members at the expense of those in the periphery. With the UK gone, the outsiders of the Eurozone will have much less weight and now face a choice - to either clear a path towards membership of the inner circle, or else fall further behind.

This is no choice at all (though the Patriotic Front may disagree) and Borisov’s first request to the Macron administration should be to seek support for a Bulgarian application to join the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM2), sometimes referred to as the ‘euro waiting room’.

Beyond that, Bulgaria will have a key mediating role to play in the Brexit negotiations through its rotational presidency of the Council of the EU. Given Macron’s outspoken and tough approach to negotiations, intensive consultations between Paris and Sofia will be useful for both. As a first step, these should address the hole that Britain’s exit will leave in the EU budget, with Bulgaria hoping that any necessary cuts do not unfairly punish those outside the Eurozone. 

View from Warsaw

by Piotr Buras

After Macron’s victory, the main challenge for Poland will be to establish a working relationship and rebuild a minimum confidence with the new French administration. Since Poland’s national-conservative government suddenly rejected the contract with Airbus on Caracal helicopters for the Polish army in the Autumn 2016, Polish-French relations have been marked by a high level of mistrust and disappointment. Macron’s presidency is not likely to improve them any time soon.

In fact, Macron’s statements in the electoral campaign seemed to indicate further tension with Warsaw. Not only did Macron compare Kaczynski to Putin (calling them “allies of Le Pen”); he also signalled that he would not tolerate a country that “benefits from the social cost differences across EU and violates all EU rules” or give his support for sanctions against Poland. Andrzej Duda, the President of Poland, responded, that should Macron be elected he “would have to work hard to restore the trust for France in Poland” and the foreign minister Waszczykowski warned that “while visiting Poland Macron would feel ashamed of his embarrassing words”. After Macron’s victory, Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said his words about Poland were “irresponsible”.

Nevertheless, both Szydlo and Duda were quick to congratulate Macron on his success and express their willingness to meet the new French president at his earliest convenience. Despite the rush to congratulate Macron, a new opening in bilateral relations will be difficult. Not least because the Warsaw government has become “hostage of its own rhetoric” (as the daily “Rzeczpospolita” wrote). The ruling Law and Justice party in Poland has had little contact with Macron and his team, while foreign minister Waszczykowski’s meeting with Marine Le Pen in January and the picture of their hand-shake have since become symbols of wrong-headed European policy of the Polish government.

Macron’s criticism about the state of the rule of law in Poland is one source of tension, in particular given the strong sovereigntist agenda of the Polish government. Macron, as the representative of the liberal, pro-European, and profoundly anti-right-wing-populist mainstream is at odds with what the Warsaw government stands for.

The other problem is Macron’s strong interest in an ambitious reform of the eurozone, including a separate eurozone budget – an anathema for Warsaw. Macron is expected to seek realignment with Germany first of all, potentially at the expense of EU unity and Central Eastern Europe. To ease the pain of his economic reforms and adjustment to EU fiscal rules, Macron might be tempted to embark on a protectionist agenda within the EU − boosting the EU’s social pillar, fighting social dumping, and imposing restrictions on labour mobility.

For Warsaw, the four freedoms of the single market are the essence of EU integration. This is where French and Polish interests may collide if Macron wants to strike a balance between his pro-European outlook and the need to offer more protection for disenchanted French workers. Poland is likely to find much more common ground with Macron on Russia because he is seen as a staunch supporter of the hard-line approach, which have fallen apart if Le Pen or Fillon had won the election.

 

Interested in this topic? Don't miss the latest episode of Mark's World in 30 Minutes:

More on: View from the Capitals, European Power, Cohesion & Governance

Related Publications

Read more publications