No more need for conferences: Emmanuel Macron is the future of Europe.
With his decisive electoral victory over right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen on Sunday, Macron not only landed five more years as President of France, but also secured his place – for better or for worse – at the center of the EU decision-making until 2027, and probably for many years beyond.
When he completes his second and final term in the spring of that year, he will still be seven months away from his 50and birthday. A recall to a high-level post in the EU institutions is hardly out of the question.
But even as Brussels and most of the continent’s capitals breathed a sigh of relief at Le Pen’s defeat, officials and diplomats on Monday began contemplating the ramifications of a European universe in which France’s self-proclaimed Jupiter eclipses truly every other budding political star – and can pursue his ambitious, integrationist agenda for Europe largely unconstrained by French domestic politics.
In an EU still dominated, if not entirely controlled, by the Franco-German dyad, Macron is now well placed to claim the role of recently retired German Chancellor Angela Merkel. But whether he achieves his lofty goals – which include deeper economic integration, greater independence from the United States in defense policy and transnational candidate lists in European elections – will depend on his ability to convince and persuade fellow leaders to follow his lead, to forge consensus. and negotiate concrete agreements, rather than just fussing and arguing.
“The key for Europe is to find common ground,” said a senior national official who spent many hours and late nights in the corridors of the European Council’s Europa building, laying out the challenge Macron now faces confronted with. “Not a minimum deal, that was Merkel’s legacy. Expanding the space that we all consider to be of European interest. That should be the goal.”
In other words, to leave his mark, Macron must do more than manage crises, reactively, finding the lowest common denominator, and rather guide his colleagues in the European Council towards a proactive policy that will demonstrate the usefulness of the EU for citizens.
A first test will take place in barely a month, during an extraordinary European Council, where heads of state and government will once again struggle to cope with soaring energy prices – an exacerbated spike by Russia’s war against Ukraine.
“The best he can do now is get to the summit on May 30-31 and get a deal for European consumers,” the senior official said. “If he delivers that, given the impotence of the German coalition, he can do much more if he is pragmatic and reasonable.”
Oversized French Voice
Among the obstacles Macron may face in the coming years is collective resistance to a sense of French hegemony. He is already seen as the national leader most responsible for appointing European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and he is known to be extremely close to French-speaking European Council President Charles Michel. France, post-Brexit, is also the EU’s only permanent member of the UN Security Council and its only nuclear power, giving Paris an outsized voice in diplomatic discussions.
A Paris-based EU diplomat said it was a wonder to see France asserting its interests: first, a French official complaining about one political issue or another; a document follows soon after, then the document is transformed into a policy proposal which, within a few months, is more or less adopted in EU regulations. “It is the country I know with the biggest gap between its effectiveness in Brussels and the perception of its citizens that Europe is not French enough,” said the diplomat.
Brussels, at the moment, is already perceived as extremely French, and Macron’s victory, while welcome, only confirms this perception.
Among the challenges that Macron and other EU leaders will face in the months and years to come is Russia’s war in Ukraine. On this front, Macron’s legacy of conciliatory relations with Vladimir Putin and his failure to help implement the Minsk peace accords will leave some leaders doubtful about letting him lead the EU’s approach.
Seeking to become a go-between among power brokers on economic and other political issues, Macron will also have to contend with more experienced counterparts, including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who won his fifth term earlier this month. , and the Dutch Prime Minister. Mark Rutte, now serving in his fourth government. Neither will be particularly impressed that Macron has become the first French president to be re-elected since Jacques Chirac in 2002.
“He certainly made his second and last election, but he won’t be able to catch Orbán,” said a senior EU diplomat. “Then he has to create a government after the June elections. [National] Elections to the Assembly.
The top diplomat said there was good reason to hope Macron would rise to the role on a European scale. “Of course, we hope he will become the European statesman,” said the top diplomat. “It would be good for all of us. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt for now.
But in Brussels, relief over Le Pen’s defeat by Macron is tempered by the right-wing candidate’s strong performance and fears that Macron will not act quickly enough to create space for a traditional successor.
The French president isn’t exactly known for sharing the limelight, and his success in largely obliterating France’s traditional center-right and center-left parties has created a risk that his two-term presidency, as that of Barack Obama in the United States, or followed by the election of an anti-immigrant eurosceptic with little relief from NATO or the EU.
A diplomat from southern Europe pointed out that, in five years, Le Pen “has a great chance because Macron has destroyed both the socialists and the republicans”.
To prevent Le Pen or a similar extremist from winning in 2027, the southern diplomat said, “We would need a strong centrist candidate.” This is one of the reasons why Brussels will closely monitor Macron’s choice of prime minister.
So far, Macron has had only moderate success in promoting his European agenda. Ideas such as creating transnational candidate lists were brushed aside by other leaders ahead of the 2019 European Parliament elections. Macron pushed for the creation of the Conference on the Future of Europe, a series of discussions that would explore various ways in which the EU could evolve and serve citizens better. Whether anything concrete will come out of the conference remains to be seen.
Some said Brussels should savor Macron’s victory before they start worrying about the future of Europe or France.
Nathalie Loiseau, a centrist French member of the European Parliament and Macron ally, said she was met with “enormous relief from all the Europeans who bombarded us with messages during the campaign and are still bombarding us now to express their joy. It is very impressive.”
Macron’s re-election, Loiseau said, means that “we will finalize what has already advanced on digital and defense issues. We will accelerate the pace of the Green Deal and we will continue to step up on Ukraine through sanctions and military aid. And we will prepare a meeting on the Balkans, which is all the more important as the region is going through intense tensions.
Macron’s uneven record in the European arena, however, will also push him to tone down rhetoric and compose details, especially on topics such as “strategic autonomy” – the goal of making Europe more independent. in defense and security.
It’s not that ideas like strategic autonomy lack “merit or substance”, said a third EU diplomat, but that in Paris there is “a failure to understand that the EU is not a strongly centralized republic”.
In other words, Brussels is not Paris, the EU is not France. “So unless Macron shows understanding and humility towards those who think differently,” the diplomat said. it will be difficult for Macron to realize his aspirations. “France”, underlined the third diplomat, “needs partners”.
Maïa de La Baume contributed to the report.