A strange and boring lunch, hosted by Antonio Tajani, took place on the 7th floor of the European Parliament on Tuesday (17 April), when Emmanuel Macron came to Strasbourg to charm MEPs with his visions of Europe.
Unexpectedly, it was Nigel Farage, the best-known Europe hater and Brexiteer, that somehow fell in love with the French president. Farage was one of 20 people who took part in the luncheon
“He’s probably Europe’s last chance,” he said of Macron afterwards. The president’s own people could not have put it better.
Macron is celebrating his first year of presidency these days, but the truth is: the EU’s latest darling is going through a rough patch.
In France, unions are preparing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the May 1968 events. Universities go on strike one after the other. The rail conflict is going strong. And even in his own nice and tidy parliamentary majority, protests are growing against a new asylum law.
Macron was welcomed at the EU level as the white knight, the only one who could save both the EU and France by convincing both to reform. He now has to prove he can.
In the meantime, trust seems to be ebbing away.
Germany has already killed Macron’s dream of an EU budget. Italy has just demonstrated that the anti-European temptation has not left at all, and Poland and Hungary have made a habit of playing with the rule of law.
Macron had big dreams and is now downsizing expectations, after a painful reality check. As smart and bold as he may be, he also makes mistakes. He lost his temper in Strasbourg when he was verbally attacked by Green leader Philippe Lamberts on the rule of law in France.
He might also have spoken a bit too much and with too much pride about French strikes in Syria. Less than a half of the assembly got up to applaud him after his speech.
This coyness can be explained. One year before the next European elections, MEPs are already engaged in a beauty contest to try and keep their seats. Inside the big-old-scared EPP and S&D groups, supporting Macron is frowned upon more than ever.
Out of the 74 French MEPS, only two of them officially support him for now: Lamassoure (EPP) and Pargneaux (S&D). But this won’t last forever if social issues get resolved in France.
Macron might not be Superman but, as EU leaders go, he has little competition.
This edition of Trans-Europe Express is co-financed by the European Parliament.
The Inside Track
By Alexandra Brzozowski
Overcoming differences? German Chancellor Merkel called for a spirit of “compromise” in reforming the currency union during a meeting with French President Macron in Berlin.
Charm offensive. One year before the European elections, Macron visits Strasbourg to count his allies and promote his reform ideas.
Back to diplomacy. After the recent escalation in the Syrian conflict, the Austrian government is launching an initiative to resume the Syria talks that were launched in Vienna in 2015.
House under fire. Theresa May suffered an embarrassing defeat as the British parliament’s upper house challenged her refusal to remain in a customs union with the EU after Brexit.
Yes, but no. A stable euro area is in Poland’s interest, but the adoption of the euro has to wait for the right moment, Poland’s deputy finance minister Leszek Skiba told the Polish parliament.
Quo vadis, Catalonia? Former French PM Manuel Valls, himself Barcelona-born, believes there can be a political solution to the uncertainty in Spain’s northeastern region of Catalonia, decisively rejecting a separatist answer.
Flag incident. A Croatian parliamentary delegation cut short its official visit to Serbia after a dispute over Serbian Radical Party leader, MP and convicted war criminal Vojislav Šešelj.
Progress needed. For Serbia, the Kosovo question and rule of law remain key areas for improvement to progress towards EU membership, the Commission’s latest enlargement report found.
‘Daphne project’. Six month after her assassination, an international consortium of journalists started publishing further revelations on the murder of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, vowing to disturb Malta’s corruption praxis.
Little sunny Britain. Gibraltarians are afraid what lies ahead for them, when the small British overseas territory will be forced to leave the EU next March, after they voted almost unanimously for Remain.
‘Big worry’. Migrants landing on Greek islands should no longer be held there while asylum claims are assessed, a Greek top court ruled. EU officials are alarmed and fear a new wave of migrants.
Protest wave. The Armenian President called for dialogue while thousands of citizens continued to take the streets in protest against his appointment as the new prime minister.
Views are the author’s