The reaction in Brussels to the outcome of the French Presidential elections on Sunday has been one of great relief. Emmanuel Macron’s victory over Marine Le Pen was solid and beyond expectation, notwithstanding a relatively low turnout and many blank/spoiled ballots. The victory offers hope that the tide of Euroscepticism and population is turning. Macron’s victory was obtained by solidly playing a pro-European card, in contrast for instance to Mark Rütte in March’s Dutch elections. Hiss success comes at a time where other signs of consolidation of the European project are appearing, as reflected in recent opinion polls. The increased economic growth in Europe (now surpassing that of the US) and the united front of the 27 in the BREXIT negotiations, as seen at the latest European Council, are also signs that Spring is in the air.
However, people are not naïve. They do not underestimate the challenges the young President faces, not least to win a majority in the Parliamentary elections in June that will back his reform program. Macron’s success was, however, a crucial pushback against Euroscepticism. The war is not yet over – the next battleground will be Italy early next year. Europe desperately needs Macron’s Presidency to be a success and there is a strong willingness to help.
Much hope is focused on a revival of the French-German axis leading among other things to a consolidation of the EURO and progress in the fight against unemployment, not least in Southern Europe. However, German elections make it difficult for Chancellor Merkel at the present juncture to be very forthcoming, despite her rising popularity. And her opponent – Martin Schulz – is careful not to upset German orthodoxy on economic policy. The situation in a year’s time could be different – whoever wins. The German social democrats have traditionally been more open to ideas like Eurobonds or a Eurozone budget than the Christian Democrats, and if Angela Merkel wins one last term, she can be expected to do “whatever it takes” to leave as her legacy rescue of Europe. A success in this respect is conditioned on helping “soldier Macron” move France forward.
President Macron is also conscious of the fact that he is unlikely to win Berlin over until he proves his credentials as a serious reformer. The EU could offer help in several areas:
- The agenda on social rights and protection against social dumping could be given higher priority. Macron has announced that labor market reforms will be at the top of his domesticl agenda in the coming months. He needs to show that he can also provide protective elements. The posted workers’ directive, with increased safeguards against misuse of the free movement of labour, is sitting on the table of the Council. A rapid adoption would be strongly welcomed in Paris.
- Europe is responding to President Trumps’ protectionist agenda, through an acceleration of trade negotiations with several third countries. Macron in the election campaign successfully went up against Le Pens’ protectionist agenda. But he equally called for a more serious defence of European interests. On trade defence measures, there are specific proposals from the Commission on the table and it is no coincidence that the College this week had a first discussion on harnessing globalisation.
- Macron’s promise to reinforce the fight against terrorism falls well in line with present proposals on reinforcing EUROPOL and other EU instruments and could be given a further push forward.
- Progress in European cooperation on defence policy, including on joint research and defense procurement, should also be doable. Besides the security aspects, this is an area where France has strong industrial interests.
Most of these issues are not exactly a British “cup of tea”. But BREXIT – where as President Macron is likely to continue the previous French hard-line position – makes this irrelevant. In general, most Member States gives higher priority to helping President Macron bring France back on track than facilitating life for the British.