What can Emmanuel Macron mean for the EU future?

Emmanuel Macron says: I’m a pro-European, I defended constantly during this election the European idea. I do consider that my mandate will be at the same to reform in depth the European Union and our European project. But how (un)realistic is this vision of in depth EU reform, where can he find allies and what might be the biggest obstacles for him? Read few comments.

Emmanuel Macron. Credit: https://en-marche.fr/

Erik Jones, Professor of European Studies and International Political Economy, Director of European and Eurasian Studies, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University

A lot of analysts are hoping that a partnership between Macron and Merkel (Merkron?) will somehow reenergize the European project.  I find that unlikely.

To begin with, the days when France and Germany could exercise constructive leadership are probably over.  Europe’s two largest countries can easily organize a blocking minority and so lead by veto, but they would need to bring others along to engineer any lasting or substantial treaty reform.  Right now there is simply too much distance between north and south or east and west to see that happening easily.

There is also a clear tension between the possible and the important.  We can imagine reforms that might attract consensual support under Franco-German leadership but they are not the reforms that Europe needs; we can identify the reforms that are necessarily to stabilize the euro area, the Schengen agreement, the internal market, and the multi-annual financial framework, but they are unlikely to garner consensus – even among France and Germany.

Finally, it does not feel like we are in a stable equilibrium – not matter how suboptimal.  The tension between Europe and Hungary, political developments in Italy, ongoing disagreement with Russia, and an odd relationship with the Trump Administration all point to a direction of travel and not a fixed point in the European project.  That direction of travel needs to be managed to avoid things getting even worse than they are at present.  I suspect that management of Europe will absorb as much energy as Merkron can throw at it before we even talk about a major reform effort (and assuming that Merkel and Macron can succeed in working in tandem).

This is not meant to be overly pessimistic.  I would really like to see the situation improve and not worsen.  I guess I am just waiting for more evidence of progress before I become too optimistic (and so risk yet another round of disappointment).

Carine Germond, Associate Professor, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Emmanuel Macron’s outspoken pro-European stance has been quite invigorating in a campaign whose main contestants, with the exception of Macron and Benoit Hamon, defended decidedly Eurosceptic positions or clearly opposed European integration. French presidential elections are rarely if ever won on international and European policy issues but for once Europe has featured prominently in the presidential debate. Macron’s project of reforming the EU, if he is elected to France’s highest office on Sunday 7 May, will however not be easy to realise.

The first pre-condition for Macron to implement his reforming vision would be to re-ignite and revive the Franco-German motor, which has been stalled for over a decade now. The lack of Franco-German leadership in the EU accounts for a large part to the lack of effective and efficient crisis management and advances in European integration of late. Historically a functioning Franco-German couple has always been a prerequisite for progress in the EU. Only a working partnership between Paris and Berlin would allow both capitals to set a pro-reform European agenda, build consensus among member states on the need and desirability of such reforms and build up the required coalition to implement them.
Macron is clearly aware of this as he has made re-activating the bilateral partnership one of his top European priorities. Yet, it will also depend on his and Merkel’s ability to establish a good personal relationship, traditionally a key characteristic of all dynamic duo, and go beyond paying a mere lip service to Franco-German close relations. The most successful duos have always been those who were able to use their personal entente to shape European affairs. At the same time, Macron has remain quite vague as to what reforming the EU would entail and aim at or how a renewed Franco-German partnership would help achieve EU reforms.

Even if Macron succeeds in reviving the Paris-Berlin tandem, this will not suffice, however. The recent EU history demonstrates that France and Germany cannot exercise European political leadership alone but that the two countries also need a strong European Commission, something which has sorely lacked under José Manuel Barroso. This had been for instance the case in the mid-1980s, when Jacques Delors, the then Commission President, found congenital partners in François Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl to advance his Single Market project, eventually leading to the signature of the Single European Act and ending a decade of so-called Euroschlerosis. When taking office as President of the European Commission in 2014 Jean-Claude Juncker has announced that his Commission would take on a more active political role. Despite good intentions, the Juncker Commission has been deeply tested with the rapid succession of crises that hindered its ability to exercise leadership.

Macron’s reform project will also depend heavily on the willingness of his European partners to engage in reform, for which there is arguably very little appetite at the moment. Any in-depth reform of EU treaties would most certainly involve the organization of referendums in some EU member states, with uncertain outcomes at a time when anti-EU, populist or nationalist sentiments are riding high in many of them.

Pavlos Efthymiou, Doctoral Researcher in Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge

Every new Head of State has ideas for domestic and international policies and reforms. Some more bold and far-reaching than others. Within the EU the balances are known. The French influence on the European project is central. You might recall how many analysts predicted that a Le Pen win would be the end of the EU. In this sense, the same way that an unwelcome development would be negative for Europe, Mr. Macron’s election to the highest French Office has the potential of a very positive impact on the European project.

Now, will Mr. Macron’s election shift the scales when it comes to the German-led approach to EU economic policies? It is unlikely. However, he could push for positive integration and deepening on a number of spheres where there is fertile ground – from Banking to Borders and from Counter-Terrorism to Trade. If he helps rejuvenate, for example, EU trade and external economic diplomacy, and, at the same time, reforms France effectively – strengthening the French economy, his leverage on other issues, including the prevailing political-economy norms within Europe today, will also augment.

Overall, it is too early to tell. Mr. Macron faces major internal challenges, ranging from notable inequalities within France, high unemployment in certain regions, high anti-establishment and anti-globalisation sentiments in many areas and among many voters, to the absence of a supporting party structure – an issue which he will have to resolve, low economic growth and internal structural imbalances. Addressing all these will probably come as a priority. If they do not, he risks being a President without a base, and, as we saw in the past years, a president with seeming low approval has restricted European and global influence.

Jean-Marc TrouilleJean Monnet Chair in European Economic Integration, School of Management, Bradford University

If Emmanuel Macron’s victory is confirmed on 7 May’s second round of the French presidential elections, he will need to deliver on his ambitious reform programme. Both France and Europe need substantial reforms, and these two levels cannot be disentangled. Making headways on core European issues will only be possible, as has so frequently been the case since the 1950s, on the basis of a solid renewed Franco-German entente.

This is most likely to happen. First, German political leaders have been disenchanted by the Hollande presidency, when nothing much happened in terms of reforming France, fighting budget deficits, reducing debts. Second, the rise of the French extreme right has caused such anxieties across the Rhine that E. Macron’s victory on 23 April, with his fresh and resolutely positive discourse on Europe, has brought about immense relief. Germany clearly aspires to have France as a strong, reliable partner to withstand the turbulences that Brexit will unavoidably generate, and the uncertainties that Putin and Trump will continue to cause. Against this backdrop, the German government has felt reassured by E. Macron, whose political DNA is definitely Franco-German. Hasn’t he committed himself to respecting France’s commitments to meeting Eurozone budget deficit targets? He does not consider it constructive to establish a confrontational power relation with a view to obtaining certain German concessions. But he does not systematically share German views either. For instance, he advocates the creation of a European budget and the launch of Eurobonds to pool debts used to finance investments. When he was Minister for the economy, E. Macron had also argued for a substantial increase of German investments and criticized German trade surpluses, which he argued were ‘not good, neither for the German economy, nor for the eurozone’. But beyond this criticism, E. Macron knows that in order to soften the German stance, particularly on monetary and budgetary policies, substantial reforms of the French economy will be necessary.

Whilst under a Macron presidency we can expect to have a more efficient relationship between Paris and Berlin, interestingly Germany’s position is likely to become less comfortable insofar as Germany will need to clarify the kind of Europe it wants. Indeed, for too long French inaction made it possible for Berlin no to have a clear European policy. But in recent months this has changed. The Brexit vote and Trump’s election questioned core pillars of Germany’s post-War prosperity: free trade and NATO. With the rise of the National Front, other pillars, the EU, the Single Market, and the Euro, also appeared under threat whilst Germany increasingly found itself caught in strategic isolation. Now, Germany will need to clarify which concessions it is prepared to accept, and what it expects in return. Will Germany still be in favour of furthering European integration as it did in and after Maastricht? Times have changed since the Lamers-Schäuble paper and Joschka Fischer’s speech at the Humbolt University, all strongly advocating a leap towards deeper integration…

Roman GerodimosSenior Lecturer in Global Current Affairs, The Media School, Bournemouth University

It is true that there is widespread disaffection with the European Union project across parts of the continent, although the root causes and symptoms of that malaise are complex and quite possibly contradictory. That is to say, some people attribute blame to the EU for a perceived loss of control or national identity – which are due to much deeper root causes such as globalization and digitization. Therefore, there is a movement for a return to the nation-state, although whether that’s realistic or not is questionable. Others think that EU integration has not progressed enough or that it hasn’t been designed well, and therefore what we need is more and faster integration. It will be very hard for Macron and, in fact, for any other EU leader to argue that there is a clear mandate for one direction or the other. There isn’t currently an informed debate (that would engage the public at large) about what the EU got right and wrong. Maybe such a debate is unrealistic given the size and diversity of the public. Therefore, what we’re likely to see is an intensification of an ‘a la carte’ Europe of different speeds/’hubs’ based on the common interests and agendas of smaller groups of countries. This will not necessarily be based on a mandate, but on the strategic vision of leaders such as Macron. Given Brexit, and given the major security and sociocultural challenges facing Europe, reforming the EU won’t be easy.

A Macron presidency could give France the dynamism, energy and vision that it’s been lacking in recent years. A strong France is important so as to counter-balance Germany’s leadership and own vision. If Macron pursues a stronger, more flexible EU core then he is likely to be supported by other continental European countries – including Germany – as well as major institutional players within the EU. A top-down approach is more likely to succeed than an approach based on a bottom-up process of endless referenda and consultation across the continent, given the range of potential veto players.

Jonah Levy, Associate Professor, Vice-Chair of the Department of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley

French leaders regularly campaign on pledges to change Europe only to abandon those pledges once in office.  To take the most recent example, in 2012, François Hollande declared that he would not ratify the European Treaty on Stability, Coordination, and Governance (TSCG), establishing new rules and punishments to ensure fiscal discipline, in its current state.  Rather, he pledged to propose a “pact of responsibility, governance, and growth to end the crisis and the spiral of austerity that aggravates it”  Hollande would go along only if the Treaty were amended to include pro-growth measures, such as higher deficit ceilings and the creation of Euro-bonds.

Of course, France’s European partners had no intention of fundamentally renegotiating the TSCG, and Hollande knew it.  In the end, only very limited pro-growth measures were agreed upon at the EU level, most notably additional infrastructure spending, most of it coming from unspent moneys lying around various EU programs.  Still, Hollande went ahead with ratification of the TSCG.

Macron has his list of measures to reform Europe.  He wants to create an EMU budget and minister of finance.  He wants to revise the European directive on seconded workers to prevent “social dumping.”  And he wants to create a “European Security Council” composed of political and military figures.  Most of these measures are unlikely to see the light of day.

When Macron says that he is pro-European, what he really means is that he is prepared to impose fiscal and labor market reforms on France, however painful, that he believes are necessary to be a member in good standing in EMU.  France cannot continue to violate EMU budgetary rules year after year; Macron will finally balance the budget.  France cannot sustain support for EMU with unending mass unemployment; Macron will overhaul labor markets to bring unemployment down.  Finally, France cannot be a force in EU politics until it gets its house in order; Macron will show Germany that France is up to the challenge.  In other words, for Macron, Europe is not so much an aspiration as a justification for painful and unpopular domestic reforms.

Robert LadrechProfessor of European Politics, Keele University

Macron has indeed defined himself as a strong pro-European, and an advocate of deepening the European Union. I would place him politically as a left-leaning centrist/moderate, but unlike some in the French Socialist party, non-dogmatic. That means he is open to innovative ideas and policies that many on the left would disown. At the same time, although he has a business and finance background, I suspect he departs from the neo-liberal mind-set one sees with the German finance minister Schäuble. As for allies, it depends on elections later this year in Germany – would a SPD-led coalition emerge, and Italy – a Renzi reformist government. In both cases, these governments would be open to some clearly discernible reform of the Eurozone and measures to regain popularity for the EU in general. The former Greek finance minister Varoufakis said recently that in the Eurozone bailout negotiations, whatever else one might think of Macron’s economic policies, he was an advocate of leniency for Greece. The fact that the UK is leaving the EU may actually make it easier to push a EU reform project, and I think Macron realises it has to be ambitious – therefore having Germany and Italy in support is crucial.

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