Macron is clear favourite in Brussels

Emmanuel Macron arrives to deliver an address to French nationals in the UK. London, 21 February. [Toby Melville/Reuters]

Emmanuel Macron’s vision for the future of the European Union has made him a popular man in Brussels. Business and think tank leaders told EURACTIV.com why they support the up-start pro-EU politician.

“I will vote for Macron because I think we have to bet on youth, on change,” said Loïc Armand, the president of the Europe committee of the Medef business lobby and L’Oréal France, at a debate organised by EURACTIV in Brussels on Tuesday (28 March).

Conference 28 mars

“We have had enough of professional politicians. I think many people have had enough of career politicians. And I prefer to see these people voting for Macron because change means either Macron or [Marine] Le Pen. But Le Pen would be a total disaster,” Armand added, taking care to stipulate that his personal choice did not represent the official position of Medef.

But his opinion is broadly representative of those shared by most Europhiles in Brussels, whether politicians or civil servants: the EU capital is firmly in Macron’s corner.

Fillon, Macron and Le Pen attempt to win over business leaders

France’s leading presidential candidates yesterday (28 March) aimed to rally business leaders behind their programmes for social reform, increased competitiveness, education and globalisation. EURACTIV’s partner La Tribune reports.

Also on the panel of the debate, entitled “The French election at the heart of the European Union”, were André Sapir, a researcher at the Bruegel Institute, and Vincent Aussilloux, the head of the economy and finance department at France Stratégie, a think tank at the service of the French prime minister.

While Aussilloux was reserved on the subject, the other two speakers expressed a clear preference for Macron. However, Armand did concede that conservative candidate François Fillon was “a bit more compatible” with the values his business organisation.

“Macron, of course”

Sapir, who, as a Belgian citizen, cannot vote in the French presidential election, also backed the former Rothschild banker.

“I have one preference, not two: Macron, of course. Macron is the only candidate who really has a European outlook, who sees that Europe really is an answer” to the everyday challenges people face, not a problem, he said.

“He never attacks Brussels. But that does not mean he thinks Brussels and Europe do not need to be reformed.”

Armand went further: “Macron is deeply European. He has understood that Europe is a community of people, of men and women who have built something together. It is not a French Europe, nor is it a German Europe. It is not a Franco-German Europe, it is a European Europe. That means that if we want to do things together, we have to listen to one another and respect each other, to decide what to do together and then do it. I think Macron has a deep understanding of this.”

Macron wants to forge new French-German partnership

France’s only clearly pro-European presidential candidate, Emmanuel Macron, and German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel know each other well. In 2015, they both published their vision for an economic and social union within the EU. Yesterday evening (16 March), they met again to discuss the future of the bloc.

After the parliamentary elections on 11 and 18 June, Armand said he was certain that Macron would gain the support of a majority of MPs, even though he does not represent one of the two main political parties.

“I am convinced that the grand coalition will be the solution to most questions.”

“If Europe does not change, it will die”

All three speakers expressed their concern at the thought of a Le Pen presidency. Aussilloux even warned that a National Front victory was a very real possibility. After the surprises of Brexit and Donald Trump, the volatility of public opinion makes any prediction of the second round result uncertain, he said.

Armand warned that a Le Pen victory had never been so close. The French right’s aversion to Benoît Hamon, he said, would be sure to hand her the victory in a second round run-off against the Socialist candidate.

And the threat will not disappear after 2017, Sapir added. For the researcher, if France’s next president fails to satisfy public opinion, Le Pen will be all but guaranteed to win in 2022.

“If we continue the way we have done during the next mandate, especially at the European level, this will be a real danger,” he said. “Even if it is not President Le Pen this time around, the danger will not have passed.”

Armand also issued a warning on the future of Europe after Brexit. “If Europe does not change it will die. And if the eurozone governments do not change, then yes, the euro will die too.”

The Medef representative added his voice to the call for democratisation of the single currency, including the creation of a eurozone parliament.

EU Socialists split between Hamon and Macron

Officially, the European Parliament’s Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group backs Benoît Hamon for the French presidency. But MEPs are split over his European outlook, with some, especially the British and Italians, preferring Emmanuel Macron. EURACTIV France reports.

Hamon has presented himself as the champion of eurozone reform, but while the speakers fundamentally agreed with his plan, they believed it was unrealistic.