The new French president was the main topic of conversation among visibly excited MEPs in Strasbourg this week. But the French themselves were among the least enthusiastic. EURACTIV France reports.
France’s young new leader and his European agenda were the hot talking point at the European Parliament’s Strasbourg plenary session this week.
“You are lucky, you have ‘Ma-ce-ron,” said one excited Romanian journalist. On Monday (15 May), the front page of Germany’s Die Zeit hailed Emmanuel Macron as “the saviour”, as he paid his first presidential visit to Chancellor Angela Merkel. A visit that was welcomed with broad smiles all round.
“Congratulations, you have saved us!” one German MEP said to a French colleague. Even the leader of the centre-right EPP group, Manfred Weber, had no qualms about joining in this love-in. “In Koblenz, they are saying that 2017 will be the dawning of a new world (for the extreme right). But Macron won, Mrs Le Pen is not even present in the European Parliament,” the German CDU lawmaker said. He added that Macron represents “a hope for Europe”.
But liberal ALDE group leader Guy Verhofstadt fears all this back-slapping will lead Europe to rest on its laurels.
“The voters showed they wanted radical change and that they didn’t want this Europe. Now we have to move forward, as Merkel said, “Wir schaffen das” (We can do it!)” the former Belgian prime minister said.
Centrist Alliance French MEP Jean Arthuis said Macron should visit “this sham Parliament” and give it an “electric shock”. Two of France’s seven liberal MEPs have just been named as ministers in Macron’s first government: Sylvie Goulard and Marielle de Sarnez. But these seven are the only a small minority of the country’s 74 MEPs, and the only ones, for now, who actually support their new head of state.
En Marche! splits parliament
While it carries a great weight of expectation, En Marche! is also a source of no small amount of frustration and consternation among French MEPs.
The candidacy of de Sarnez in Paris’ 11th constituency, for example, has attracted heavy criticism from the left. At 66 years old, the is in her fourth mandate in the European Parliament and thus does not fit the criteria for the En Marche! label. Just this week, Manuel Valls was refused entry to the club on the grounds that he had already held office three times.
Even a visit by Socialist Commissioner Pierre Moscovici was not enough to lighten the morose atmosphere on the left. The Commissioner, who sees himself as a bridge-builder within the European left, said he was concerned by the dwindling number of socialist heads of state in Europe after Macron’s victory. Since the collapse of Benoît Hamon in the first round of the presidential election, morale for the legislative election is at rock bottom.
“En Marche! will clean up in the legislatives, that’s for sure,” said one glum Socialist MEP.
Deep divides in the Republican camp
If anything, the situation is even more delicate on the French right. By naming the moderate Edouard Philippe as his prime minister, Macron has split the Republican Party down the middle. Among the pro-Macron MEPs in the Republican (EPP) camp are names like Alain Lamassoure and Tokia Saïfa, who, along with 22 others, signed a call to support Macron as early as 15 May.
But the head of the Republican delegation in the European Parliament, Franck Proust, firmly condemned this move. “It’s a question of respect: we have our own battle to lead for the legislatives. We have to support our 577 candidates, those who are part of our political family, our friends,” he said.
“Macron took Edouard Philippe, this is not digging the knife in for the first or second time, it is digging the knife in for a third time,” said Françoise Grosstête, very animated in her opposition to this blurring of party lines.
“Macron pulled off the hold-up of the century in this election, he has blown apart the French political system,” said Renaud Muselier, a Republican MEP. He added that he will decide whether or not to support the new government after the legislative election in June.
Germany crosses fingers for a right-wing government in Paris
For Germany, the priority is to help Macron build a workable majority; the key to the success of his government’s reformist ambitions. But what that majority will look like is very much unknown.
“I hope the Republicans win the legislative election because France needs a clear centre-right majority, the only force capable of carrying out the brave reforms that are so indispensable,” EPP chairman Manfred Weber told EURACTIV.fr.
This directly conflicts with the vision of many of the EPP’s French members. Indeed, Macron appears to have more common ground with the German centre-right, particularly when it comes to the euro. “France has to reform. Then, only then, can we talk about reform at European level and think about a revision of the treaties if it is necessary,” Weber added.