12 European heads of state in 10 days: Macron’s diplomatic tour de force

Italian Prime Minister, Paolo Gentiloni, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg, at a joint press conference during the European G-20 leaders preparatory meeting at the Chancellery. Berlin, 29 June. [Clemens Bilan/EPA]

The French president will meet 12 European heads of state in the coming 10 days during seven meetings. EURACTIV France reports.

A diplomatic tour de force aims at promoting French interests: protection for posted workers, defense policy, and migration.

Emmanuel Macron’s plan to visit all 27 other member states during the course of his presidency has currently taken him only to Germany. But this is about to change.

For his second state visit, Macron symbolically chose Austria, Romania and Bulgaria. No French president has set foot in Bulgaria for the past ten years.

The French presidency wants to “show these countries matter, and priority lies in the East,” said Macron’s office, hoping to dispel further cracks in European relations. In Austria, he will also meet his Czech and Slovak counterparts.

On 28 August, Macron will chair a summit with Germany’s Angela Merkel, Italy’s Paolo Gentiloni and Spain’s Mariano Rajoy. EU foreign affaris chief Federica Mogherini will also be present.

It is a decidedly European start of the year, which will focus on tackling the migration issue. Italy will present its proposed “code of conduct”, aimed at controlling the work of NGOs involved in migrant rescue, to the great displeasure of humanitarian organisations who denounce the code as threatening migrants’ lives.

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In the same week, Macron is also meeting with the heads of state of Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands, before heading to Greece on Friday 8 September.

French interests on the agenda

This busy agenda will enable Macron to advocate French interests in the four priority areas he identified when he took office last May: posted workers, a common European defense policy, trade relations and migration.

The dossier on expat labourers is by far the thorniest topic. As Macron will explain during his Eastern tour, the lack of regulation in this area could cause major political setbacks in Europe, as illustrated by Brexit.

At the moment, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands seem to back France in its proposition on posted workers, aimed at reducing their numbers and avoiding a race to the bottom on salaries.

The French proposal would like to set a limit to posting periods to one cumulative year over a two years period.

Macron's proposals wreak havoc on posted worker negotiations

Tough French proposals have derailed talks on controversial EU labour mobility rules and dashed Malta’s hopes of brokering a compromise deal by the of this month.

The second red line concerns salaries: the posted worker should be receiving an equivalent to the minimum wage in the country he or she is working in, if such a threshold exists.

The issue is bound to create friction with southern European states like Spain and Portugal, who are concerned that France wants to put road transport on a par with other sectors, while the European Commission has proposed to treat it separately, for lack of inspection resources.

Macron will also seek to lay the foundation for a Euro zone reform. “The debt crisis in Greece shows that the eurozone needs to be thoroughly reviewed. We avoided a disaster, but we don’t want to risk it again.”

The president’s office insisted that work on this reform should begin by early 2018, as European budget planning is already looking at post 2020 – the first year without the UK’s net contribution.

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