Is Macron’s approach to the EU the right one?

France's President Emmanuel Macron at Brexit Summit in Brussels. EPA-EFE/KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / POOL MAXPPP OUT

The Franco-German approach spearheaded by Emmanuel Macron’s government did not work. Does France’s policy on the EU need a profound rethink? Even two years after the election of the French President who was eager to change Europe, this question continues to divide. EURACTIV France reports.

“At first, everyone wanted to work with Macron and it was possible to build bridges if one relied on the right partners,” said Macron’s former advisor at the ministry of economy, Shahin Vallée, in an article published in the Guardian.

But with recent blunders regarding French-German cooperation and limited focus on EU elections, Macron’s influence on everything Europe is decreasing.

Of course, we have Brexit blocking everything and elections that are difficult to manage, especially in Italy. But the hopes raised outside France by Macron’s fiery speeches on Europe during the first year of his mandate are dwindling.

At the latest European Council, Macron was isolated in arguing for a short extension of the UK’s stay in the EU, another “symbol of this failure”, according to Shahin Vallée.

“If Macron had not imposed his views, the UK would continue to block the EU until 2021,” said Pieyre-Alexandre Anglade, EU spokesperson for Macron’s la République en Marche (LREM).

French President’s recent isolation was connected to a strategic error in the Franco-German relationship, according to Vallée. Macron made too many bets on the EU “engine” and did not consider the profound changes related to the geography and centres of gravity in the EU, according to the economist.

The Meseberg Declaration, in which France and Germany committed themselves to a number of measures, mostly regarding the eurozone budget, was never agreed on by the European Council and was met with strong Dutch opposition.

Working with southern Europe considered a downgrade

Traditionally, high-ranking French diplomats consider working with southern Europe to be quite the downgrade, although Vallée considered this to be a missed opportunity.

However, southern Europe could have successfully opposed the construction of North Stream 2, the gas pipeline wanted by Germany. On this issue, France decided not to isolate Germany even if Berlin does not hesitate to do so with France.

“These issues were discussed within the LREM, but European policy is decided by the government, period” admitted a party member. This complaint has become quite widespread among LREM party members, who said grassroots rarely have a voice.

Although Franco-German relations are breaking down, the relation between the President and Clément Beaune, considered the government’s ‘Mr Europe’, is doing well, though critics call it secretive.

Macron and Beaune drew up the list for EU elections, which compiled a bunch of inexperienced candidates that are likely to have problems establishing themselves in the corridors of the European Parliament, where experience is often the only common criterion on which colleagues from other countries base their judgments.

The unease also comes from the party’s base and from LREM MPs, who are disappointed by the government’s policies and because they are cut off.  Some have already distanced themselves, such as MP Matthieu Orphelin, who denounced the lack of ambition on environmental issues.

Weak mobilisation on the European campaign

Pro-EU members of the party regret that the government is showing little interest in the European election campaign. Only one month prior to the elections, the campaign is proving difficult to start and the government is trying to talk about everything but Europe. It is difficult to talk of a “blitz campaign” given the complex issues at stake.

“There have been some hurdles: European political groups saw Macron as a potential political opponent. They were scared. This explained the refusal of transnational lists. And then there were political forces in Germany that chose to block, not move forward,” said Pieyre-Alexandre Anglade.

Friction between France and Germany over En Marche's European ambitions

In the run-up to a European council on the revival of the European project, the increasingly direct political rivalry between En Marche and the CDU make the exchange between France and Germany difficult.

On 11 April, at the end of the European Council, the Chairman of the German Foreign Affairs Committee, Norbert Röttgen, had strange and harsh words for Macron, accusing him of having “prioritised his campaign for the European elections and his own interests before the unity of Europe.”

The government tends to put this tension into perspective, highlighted a member of the French government.

“The Franco-German relationship has always been complicated. There have been phases of unity but we are currently in a phase where this is questionable”.

France and Germany going through a rough patch

Neither France nor Germany is ready to acknowledge a cooling down in their relationship. But the German government’s complete lack of flexibility is ruffling the feathers of the French side. EURACTIV.fr reports.

The re-foundation of the EU in limbo

Tensions between France and Germany, or even among Macronists on European politics, at least have the merit of nurturing the debate.

Germany has thus called for the abolition of the European Parliament’s headquarters in Strasbourg and refused to share its seat with France in the UN Security Council.

This has been the case in response to France’s many demands, whether in terms of the eurozone budget, trade relations which must now be subject to the Paris Agreement, or the treatment of big digital corporations like Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon.

But the biggest loser of this procrastination is the re-foundation of Europe.

The Sibiu summit planned in Romania on 9 May, before the European elections, appears to no longer be of major concern even if it is supposed to stimulate the debate on the Europe of tomorrow by grooming European methods such as qualified majority voting and taking into account the results of citizens’ consultations.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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