Thursday

21st Sep 2017

Macron victory fires up German campaign

  • Emmanuel Macron is the fourth French president of Angela Merkel's chancellorship. (Photo: Emmanuel Macron/Twitter)

Next week, Angela Merkel will welcome the fourth French president of her chancellorship to Berlin.

In Emmanuel Macron, she will meet the man who staved off the far-right threat and possibly saved the European Union from breaking apart, but also a man whose ambitious ideas for shaking up the eurozone are anathema to many in Germany, particularly in her conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party.

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Macron's resounding victory over the National Front candidate and arch eurosceptic, Marine Le Pen, last Sunday (7 May) was greeted with massive relief across the political spectrum in Berlin.

But almost immediately, there were also the first voices of scepticism on the young politician’s proposals, including a common finance minister, a budget for the eurozone, and an investment program funded by a form of eurobonds.

The incoming French president has already turned into a German political issue, with the two biggest parties, partners in the current coalition - the CDU and the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) - seizing on the opportunity to carve out opposing approaches to him in the run up to the 24 September general election.

Merkel is being cool and cautious about the 39-year old president-elect.

“We have to wait for the new president to present his ideas and his wishes,” she told reporters in Berlin on Monday. “Then we’ll see which points we have in common. I don’t see that changing our policies would be the priority.”

It is unlikely that Macron will get far with his eurobonds suggestion, which many in Germany see as a backdoor to a transfer union, in which Germany ends up liable for the debts of other eurozone members.

“Neither the eurozone, nor France, suffers from too few debts,” the CDU deputy finance minister, Jens Spahn told Bild.

The mass circulation newspaper on Monday ran an article with the headline “How expensive will Macron be for us?”

Spahn’s boss, finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, on Tuesday said the German government will support any push by Macron to make the eurozone stronger, but said that some of his proposals would necessitate EU treaty changes, which were not realistic.

He was echoed by the president of the German Chambers of Commerce, Eric Schweitzer, who told the Rheinische Post that with eurobonds "investors and savers could lose trust in the euro.”

In contrast, the Social Democrats, the junior coalition partner in the current government, have been far more enthusiastic about Macron’s proposals, although they have refrained from backing eurobonds, knowing that they were deeply unpopular among German voters.

SPD hope

“The time of financial orthodoxy and finger-wagging must finally end,” foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel, who as economy minister worked closely with Macron, said in a statement just minutes after the the French election result.

The SPD candidate for chancellor, Martin Schulz was critical of Macron’s attacks on the German trade surplus, but backed the Frenchman’s idea of a eurozone budget to finance joint programs.

“We need a strategy to get more growth and more jobs in the euro zone,” said the former European Parliament president.

Schulz's party is hoping that it can emulate the Macron victory and benefit from a revival of pro-EU sentiment.

SPD support has been stagnating after an initial uptick when Schulz decided to stand against Merkel. It has failed to win two state elections and could lose control of Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, on Sunday.

Although hopes may be fading of the SPD clinching the chancellorship, there is a high likelihood it could return to a grand coalition with Merkel’s CDU, though with a larger number of seats.

That would give it more clout to set conditions for entering into government, including demanding the finance ministry, which it held in a previous coalition with Merkel from 2005 to 2009.

If the arch fiscal hawk Schaeuble were to be replaced by a Social Democrat, that could make the German government more receptive to Macron’s ideas and see it move away from fiscal fixation to more growth-focused policies.

Expectation management

Experts warn that, ultimately, Germany should try to meet Macron halfway.

“We need to do our share and be willing to compromise in order to ensure that the eurozone has a both a viable political and economic future,” Thorsten Benner, director of the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi) in Berlin, told EUobserver.

The old Franco-German alliance at the heart of the EU has become imbalanced, with Germany increasingly regarded as calling the shots. It wants to see a return of a strong France acting as a counterbalance.

Apart from Macron’s eurozone proposals, there is enormous potential for increased cooperation on security, defence and foreign policy.

But there is little prospect of Merkel offering much on eurozone reform to Macron before the German election this fall.

Ulrike Esther Franke of the European Council on Foreign Relations said that the CDU, like the SPD, wanted to see Macron succeed.

“But before the election they want to do some expectation management, they want to make sure that they are not promising something too early, and without getting anything in return”, she said.

Last opportunity

Berlin is also waiting to see if Macron’s En Marche! movement can muster enough legislative seats in the June elections to form a coherent government.

It is only then that it will become clear how much of his domestic reform programme he can push through and what his proposals really are.

“I don’t think we should put too much emphasis on what is being said now,” Franke told EUobserver, “because a lot can change once the proposals get more concrete.”

Macron will need some gesture of support from Germany soon if he is to succeed at home, said the GPPi's Benner .

“After the elections I think Merkel needs to move otherwise we’ll blow the last very promising opportunity to actually reform the eurozone and put the European project back on a viable good track,” he said.

That cuts both ways.

“We need to be mindful that Macron, in order to make good on his domestic reform promises, also needs to show to the French public that Germany is willing to move,” he said.

Analysis

Where might Macron clash with Europe?

After the celebrations around Europe of centrist Emmanuel Macron's win over far-right Marine Le Pen, the sobering years of governance are still to come. Macron might be pro-EU, but he has a lot of reform ideas that might irk others.

Analysis

Macron, a new Franco-European monarch

The new French president mixed republican pomp and European faith in his victory celebration. But to succeed, he will have to start a revolution.

Macron and Merkel to 'reconstruct' the EU

The French and German leaders will present a common proposal to deepen and strengthen the EU and the eurozone. They say they are ready to change the EU treaties.

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