By Antonina Gain, Council of the European Union Participant 2018
In the French presidential campaign of 2017, Macron’s candidacy came across as a real surprise. Formerly part of Hollande’s government, but otherwise largely unknown by the greater public, his arguments and growing popularity led him to a face-off with the second National Front candidate to ever grace the second round: Marine le Pen. The two politicians had little to nothing in common. Their policies and proposed reforms were indeed on opposites sides of the political spectrum. On the 7th of May, 2017, Macron had successfully allied other parties to his cause and became the new President of the Republic.
Throughout his campaign, Macron had always claimed the European Union was a veil of protection for the French that was not to be forgotten or brushed away. His respect for the long-established European institution is also alive with the hope to change it for the better: he has a number of reforms in the core of the EU on his mind. Being one of the only candidates to consistently defend the idea of a unified Europe, he -though not directly- led his opponents to vehemently put the idea of “Frexit” forward. Following this turn of events, some of the French that voted for Macron that did not particularly care for the EU found themselves in a position of somewhat defending it.
The arrival of a new, surprisingly young French president, and most importantly head of a party that takes great pride in offering a new way as opposed to traditional parties, will undoubtedly change the face of the European Union. Indeed, it is the first time such a person finds themself in the position of head of the French State. His role, mainly because of his political belonging, may change from what previous French presidents could have expected. France, along with Germany, has for a long time, been a leader in Europe. The two countries are even called a “couple”. With the re-election of Angela Merkel in March 2018, Macron can rely on a certain amount of support from his neighbouring governments. Indeed, upon her re-election as Chancellor, Merkel made her first diplomatic visit to France, as per usual. The two heads of state have discussed the most pressing matters (migration, eurozone, Syria, and Russia) and have agreed to bring forward a common line of work for the european elections of June 2018.
In a speech at the Sorbonne University in September 2017, Macron has presented himself as not only wanting to support the EU, but also willing to make substantial changes to its core. Some of these changes cause divergences between the French and German leaders. For instance, Macron is very attached to the idea of creating a designated intereor european budget, a stronger parliament and the post of a Minister of the Eurozone. However, Germany is not quite ready to follow. Indeed, being led by a relatively weak and ancient coalition, and animated by a spirit of “not wanting to pay for others”, Germany expresses restraint in these negotiations.
However, contestations are not confined to the couple. They actually flow over it : heads of states of Europe are more and more skeptical towards the power the couple can wield. Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, has warned Macron and Merkel that his state would by no means blindly follow eurozone reforms simply because they are conducted by the two. On the other side of the Channel, the British also warn of the possible futures led by France and Germany. The partisans of Brexit advise the countries of Europe to be wary of the “machine” that is the couple.
Aware but not afraid of this competition, Macron steadily paves his way into the European Parliament.
For now, his aim is to make the most out of the newly found weaknesses in the EPP (European People’s Party). The mere mention of these weaknesses would have been impossible even 6 months ago, as it is the biggest coalition in Europe. However, its leaders are slowly moving from a social-democrat point of view, to a downright far-right party. Some groups in it are prone to detach from such ideologies and are as such perfect political allies for the european elections to come.
Macron has addressed most of his speeches at the meetings of EU officials to those that are part of this group : he has warned them about the rise of a form of “european civil war”.
Macron has started his European campaign in April 2018, in preparation for June. His party, for now, seems to be unable to have any kind of popularity on the European level, as its aspirations are mostly French. However, La République en Marche (LREM, Macron’s party) has support from center-right and green parties in Europe.
As we see, Macron is on his way to becoming a true European leader. “France is back”, as he says, alluding to the end of a Europe that is unsure of itself, being replaced by one that is led by strong states. But is France back, championed by Macron, in a way that the EU is ready to accept ? Is the role of France in the Franco-German couple this relevant, when Macron bombed Syria in coordination with May’s Britain and Trump’s America (when Trump himself warns EU leaders that it is high time they stopped relying on American aid) ? And, most importantly, what are the possibilities of the success of his policies in a region where populism is ever growing ?
What will become of this crucial point in European history is yet to be seen. For the sake of the EU and that of Macron’s ideology, we can only hope that the EU will emerge from these new challenges stronger and more capable of coping with the world it is at the heart of.
Please note that the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Munich European Forum e.V.