Sunday

18th Feb 2018

Analysis

Where might Macron clash with Europe?

  • The next time EU leaders meet in Brussels for a summit, France will be represented by Emmanuel Macron (Photo: Council of the European Union)

Despite the warm welcome from almost all corners of Europe, the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, made it clear during his presidential campaign that he wants to reform the EU, otherwise the rise of nationalists and populists will be unstoppable.

Some of Macron’s ideas for reform might lead to clashes on the European political minefield - either with the EU, or with heavyweight capitals on the continent.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Macron wants to pave the way for a new Europe (Photo: Reuters)

Here are some of the potentially explosive issues:

It’s the economy, stupid

Macron will have to deal swiftly with the French budget, as the European Commission is rolling out its forecast for European economies on Thursday (11 May).

France will likely miss the 2017 budgetary targets, and could be in danger of facing penalties.

EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker warned on Monday (8 May) in Berlin that the "French spend too much money and spend it on the wrong things”.

"That can't go well in the long-run with relatively high debt," Juncker said.

"France is going to have to compromise with others...Germany is not alone in speaking out about a policy of stability, there are other countries too,” he argued, laying out the difficult job Macron has ahead of him.

The new French president wants to push through tough reforms in a divided France, and he has yet to get his legislators into the National Assembly.

Macron previously pledged to cut spending and public sector jobs in the hope of convincing Berlin to support his plan to overhaul the eurozone.

Eurozone plans

In his program, he promises to fight for a eurozone parliament, finance minister and budget - something that has not gone down well with Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble.

Juncker warned on Monday that "not all euro member states agree that someone based in Brussels or somewhere else should call the shots on budgets instead of national parliaments".

Macron also wants a set of social rights to be codified at European level: setting up minimum standards for job training, health insurance, unemployment benefits and the minimum wage.

He is also seeking economic transfers between eurozone member states, arguing that the common currency will not survive otherwise.

But the 39-year-old politician has a powerful argument now to convince reluctant Berlin and others to come on board.

Indeed, as he did in a 2015 interview with the Financial Times, he can argue that only populists benefit from more austerity.

"[Without transfers] you are just fuelling the demagogues,” Macron said at the time, adding: "Without transfers you will not allow the periphery to converge and will create political divergence towards extremists.”

“Both [Paris and Berlin] know the EU project won’t go anywhere if the French economy doesn’t get stronger, so rebalancing the relationship of Paris and Berlin, this is crucial,” Judy Dempsey at Carnegie Europe told EUobserver.

The new French president might receive more backing for his eurozone plans from the German Social Democrats (SPD), who are being led by former European Parliament president Martin Schulz into September’s general elections.

However, recently the SPD have been sliding behind German chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right CDU in the polls.

Moreover, any major change in the functioning of the European monetary union would entail EU treaty change, which requires large-scale negotiations and the unanimous agreement of all EU member states. Opening “pandora’s box” makes EU leaders wary and is deemed impossible for the moment.

'Democratic conventions'

But Macron's ambition to reform the EU goes further.

In his program, he proposes EU states hold national conventions; debates that would crystallise the EU’s substance and priorities.

Macron wants to build a roadmap based on those debates, a summary of common challenges and actions, defining Europe’s priorities. He also wants a timetable of action for the next five years.

The EU has already launched a soul-searching effort in the wake of the Brexit vote, which is being called the Bratislava process. It has led to the subdued Rome Declaration.

In Rome, EU nations renewed their pledge to the European project, but shied away from specific timetables and committing to any specific actions.

In the meantime, the EU commission has also drawn up five potential scenarios for the road ahead for a renewed EU, one that enjoys a new legitimacy from member states.

Members states and the EU institutions could be wary of yet another debate on the future with the possible consequence of a EU treaty change.

But Judy Dempsey at Carnegie Europe said Macron’s conventions could be a good thing if they are held at grass-roots level.

"Europe cannot go anywhere if we do not have serious dialogue - not on an elite, or institutional level, but at the citizens’ level,” she said.

"And there is appetite for this, the young people want Europe to change, the convention has to tap into this, the usual invitation list won’t do," she added.

Striking down Poland and Hungary

Macron irked Polish politicians when he said that he would aim for tougher action against Poland and Hungary - countries that are said to have broken fundamental EU rules and values.

Several legal probes have been launched by the EU commission against Hungary over the last six years, aiming to tackle the country’s backtracking on democratic norms.

Poland has been put under a rule of law framework mechanism by the EU executive to examine its compliance with EU rules, following changes to the country's constitution.

However, despite calls from the European Parliament to launch the Lisbon Treaty’s Article 7 - an infringement procedure to check if the two countries adhere to EU rules and values - member states have been reluctant to act.

Dempsey says that it is important for an EU leader to publicly call for tougher sanctions.

"Macron is right to say this openly, he now has to decide how to take this further, but it is time for the member states to speak out,” she said.

"The message was not for the French public, but for the Europeans,” Charles de Marcilly, the head of the Brussels office of the Robert Schuman Foundation, a French think tank, told EUobserver in an earlier interview.

"It said we [French] are coming back with a power to convince, which was maybe lacking, or which was left to the German chancellor, who despite common assertions is not the one who dominates Europe,” he added.

Common defence, different speeds

Macron proposes a permanent European headquarters for European defence operations, setting up a European Security Council, and cooperation between member states who wish to integrate more deeply on defence matters.

But Macron says that cooperation should not be stalled by others, and should move ahead without waiting for the participation of all EU countries.

While security is a top priority for most member states, suggesting that a few willing member states should go ahead even if the others refuse could cause irritation among EU nations.

The idea of a multi-speed Europe came up during the discussions at the Rome Declarations, and was met with fierce opposition from several member states, mainly from Central Europe.

Self-interest

But the new French president will have to walk a fine line between convincing his European partners and keeping his support in a deeply divided nation.

He needs to deliver European reforms quickly to convince French voters that his presidency is indeed not the “continuity” cited by his far-right rival, Marine Le Pen.

"Pushing through these reforms at EU level could prove politically difficult as other EU partners may want to focus on alternative priorities, such as migration and security,” wrote Robin Huguenot-Noel, a policy analyst at the European Policy Centre.

"However, in order to preclude the perspective – and the wider spill-over effects – of an irreversible French (E)U-turn, Germany and other pro-EU governments may well be tempted to help Macron deliver on parts of this reform agenda,” he argued.

"Not out of solidarity with France but out of ‘enlightened self-interest’ aimed at securing the future of European integration.”

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.

EU relieved by Macron's win

EU leaders saw Macron's victory as a blow against nationalism and Russian meddling, but one in three French voters still picked the far right.

Macron wins French presidency

[Updated] The centrist pro-EU candidate easily beat far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, with 66.1 percent of the vote against 33.9 percent.

Interview

Macron's victory could be short-lived

If elected French president, Macron could be crippled by lack of a clear majority in parliament. If Le Pen won, her EU plans would be blocked by EU countries.

Give Macron 'a chance', says EU finance chief

EU finance chief Moscovici expected France to reduce its deficit, but put "no pressure" on its new leader. All EU member states are expected to grow this year.

News in Brief

  1. Merkel: Nord Stream 2 pipeline poses 'no danger'
  2. Spanish king in Barcelona next week
  3. Turkey jails journalists for life
  4. Make budget cuts in farm and regional funds, the Dutch say
  5. UN: Hungary's anti-migration bill is 'assault on human rights'
  6. Journalist Deniz Yucel freed in Turkey
  7. New organic farming bill not ready until late spring
  8. Commissioner: Western Balkans in EU is 'obvious'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  2. EPSUMovie Premiere: 'Up to The Last Drop' - 22 February, Brussels
  3. CESICESI@Noon on ‘Digitalisation & Future of Work: Social Protection For All?’ - March 7
  4. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  6. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  7. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.Suing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name
  8. Dialogue PlatformBeyond the Errors in the War on Terror: How to Fight Global Militarism - 22 February
  9. Swedish EnterprisesHarnessing Globalization- at What Cost? Keynote Speaker Commissioner Malmström
  10. European Friends of ArmeniaSave The Date 28/02: “Nagorno-Karabakh & the EU: 1988-2018”
  11. European Heart NetworkSmart CAP is Triple Win for Economy, Environment and Health
  12. European Free AlllianceEFA Joined the Protest in Aiacciu to Solicit a Dialogue After the Elections

Latest News

  1. EU asks charities to explain anti-abuse measures
  2. ECB, Budget, EU elections This WEEK
  3. EU states stay mute on implementation of mercury bill
  4. Baltic states demand bigger EU budget
  5. Germany raises concerns over Hungary's 'Stop Soros' bills
  6. EU ties Brexit transition talks to divorce agreement
  7. EU divided over Western Balkan enlargement
  8. Facebook and Twitter weak on protecting users, says EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUDrinking Water Directive Step Forward but Human Right to Water Not Recognized
  2. European Gaming & Betting AssociationGambling Operators File Data Protection Complaint Against Payment Block in Norway
  3. European Jewish CongressEJC Expresses Deep Concern Over Proposed Holocaust Law in Poland
  4. CECEConstruction Industry Gets Together to Discuss the Digital Revolution @ the EU Industry Days
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Relations in the New Era
  6. European Free AlllianceEnd Discrimination of European Minorities - Sign the Minority Safepack Initiative
  7. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Diversity Shouldn’t Be Only a Slogan” Lorant Vincze (Fuen) Warns European Commission
  8. Dialogue PlatformWhat Can Christians Learn from a Global Islamic Movement?
  9. European Jewish CongressEJC President Warns Europe as Holocaust Memory Fades
  10. European Free AlllianceNo Justice From the Spanish Supreme Court Ruling
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities: New Grants Awarded for Branding Projects
  12. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersOresund Inspires Other EU Border Regions to Work Together to Generate Growth
  2. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  3. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Calls on EU to Sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Expel Ambassadors
  4. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement and Same-Sex Couples in Romania – Case Update!
  5. EU2017EEEstonia Completes First EU Presidency, Introduced New Topics to the Agenda
  6. Bio-Based IndustriesLeading the Transition Towards a Post-Petroleum Society
  7. ACCAWelcomes the Start of the New Bulgarian Presidency
  8. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li and President Tusk Stress Importance of Ties at ASEM Summit
  9. EU2017EEVAT on Electronic Commerce: New Rules Adopted
  10. European Jewish CongressChair of EU Parliament Working Group on Antisemitism Condemns Wave of Attacks
  11. Counter BalanceA New Study Challenges the Infrastructure Mega Corridors Agenda
  12. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel