Macron seeks new ‘progressive’ coalition for 2019 European elections

A file picture dated 12 July 2016 shows French economy minister Emmanuel Macron delivering a speech during a rally for his recently launched political movement 'En Marche!' [Christophe Petit Tesson/EPA/EFE]

French President Emmanuel Macron wants to shake up the EU political ecosystem, hoping to forge a new progressive alliance at the end of this year for the 2019 European Parliament elections, a source in his office said on Wednesday (5 September).

France’s Europhile leader is seeking to build a loose, pan-European campaign of like-minded progressives to hold back the tide of anti-immigrant nationalists.

“The idea is to make a coalition that brings progressives together around a joint platform transcending well-structured existing political families,” a source at the Élysée presidential palace said, as quoted by Reuters.

“We are at an important moment for Europe where we’ve got to rebuild ourselves because the nationalists won’t hesitate to rebuild themselves. So we must not remain prisoners of political badges,” the source added.

Campaigning for the 23 and 26 May election is likely to get under way in earnest early next year, which means the joint platform has to be thrashed out “around December-January”, the source said.

Manfred Weber said on Wednesday he would seek nomination as the European Peoples’ Party’s lead candidate for the election with the aim of taking over as president of the European Commission.

Top candidate Weber's EU campaign gets off on wrong foot

Manfred Weber, the leader of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament, announced on Wednesday (5 September) his candidature for the European Commission presidency on behalf of the centre-right party. But the kick-off event left reporters displeased, who were not allowed to ask questions in English.

Meanwhile, Macron has been active in reaching out to possible allies around Europe for a campaign confounding traditional party moulds, much as he did in his successful bid for the French presidency in 2017.

The Élysée source downplayed the importance of having a lead candidate to embody the new political movement, saying that was not voters’ priority.

“What they want to see is five or six themes that the candidates want to make happen in Europe and that they are able to do it. That’s what we’re going to work on,” the source said.

Odd man out

In fact, Macron hasn’t decided to join any of the existing political families, and hasn’t attempted to create his own group either. The Spitzenkandidaten system is therefore a game in which he cannot participate.

The Spitzenkandidaten process was first used in the 2014 election, when Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was appointed.

The Lisbon Treaty stipulates that the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, nominates a Commission president for the European Parliament’s approval while taking into account the results of the European Parliament election.

The EU Treaty does not make any reference to the Spitzenkandidaten procedure. In 2014, it was used following a “gentlemen’s agreement” among EU leaders. However, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had initially expressed concerns.

The term “progressives” favoured by Macron is already in use by the group of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, whose official Twitter handle is even @TheProgressives.

Christophe Castaner, who acts as spokesperson to the French government, recently told a gathering of Frenchmen in Brussels that the Spitzenkandidaten system was a “democratic anomaly”.

The French president is possibly attempting to repeat his national experience at European level: breaking the political mould and creating a dominant force in which politicians both from the centre left and the centre right are in command.

This strategy has weakened the French traditional centre-left and centre-right.

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And while Macron is trying the change the rules of the game by trying to rally pro-European forces, anti-EU forces are getting organised as well. A clash between “Macronists” and supporters of the Spitzenkandidaten system risks to play in the hands of the anti-immigrant, anti-EU and anti-system forces.

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