Krzysztof BledowskiCouncil director and senior economist at the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation
No. Few euro area states back Macron. Many more either reject the greater financial risk sharing that his proposal embodies or remain on the sidelines. Perhaps a better question would be: “Is Macron behind Europe?”
Macron’s proposal to create a monetary fund, a common budget, and a finance chief post are either duplicative or layering more bureaucracy—or both. Present-day populism is bound to handcuff lofty, first-best ideas like political union. The most that the euro area can hope for are second-best solutions. At the minimum, these must satisfy the North’s axiom of fiscal rectitude and the South’s insistence on financial backstops. One mix that fits this bill would decentralize fiscal space (scrapping deficit rules but exposing states to bankruptcy and euro exit) but tighten the monetary side: complete banking union and render the ECB a lender of last resort.
Without political union, fiscal affairs can only stay national. With monetary union already in place, the ECB’s role must be strengthened. Sound money and healthy banks are public goods that find support in the north and south.
The EMU was a bad idea implemented at the wrong time. To fix it, the euro area must opt for a solution that is fit for its time.
Erik BrattbergDirector and fellow, Carnegie Europe Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Mainstream European leaders were relieved when Macron won the French presidential race almost a year ago. His enthusiasm, vision, and staunchly pro-EU views have already added a welcome new dynamic and have stimulated long overdue debates on EU reform.
But Macron’s ambitious reform agenda is not universally admired. Several EU capitals view his plans with skepticism and even trepidation. To better assert themselves, new power blocks are forming across Europe.
For example, a group of northern European states—including the Nordic-Baltics, the Netherlands, and Ireland—have expressed concern about “far-reaching transfers of competence to the European level.” They prefer modest reforms rather than deepened eurozone integration. For non-EU states like Denmark and Sweden the potential for a core Europe within the eurozone is seen as an almost existential challenge post-Brexit. This sentiment is mirrored in Central and Eastern Europe, where a more cohesive Visegrad group is emerging. They too fear that a multispeed Europe risks leaving them behind.
Ultimately, the EU needs reform, and Macron’s proposals are worthy of serious consideration. But such reforms should not be a cause for more divisions within Europe. Focusing on practical changes where widespread support can be found is the way to go right now.
Fraser CameronDirector of the EU-Asia Centre
Europe should be behind Macron because all member states have a stake in a reformed and successful France, and they all have a stake in Macron being able to defend European interests with Trump.
With Merkel weakened after the German elections, Macron is emerging as the EU’s main leader. At home, he is seeking to reform and modernize the French economy, which, if successful, will mean a more self-confident France. This in turn will enable Paris to play a more ambitious role in the future of European integration and also help revive the essential Berlin-Paris axis.
Abroad, Macron has taken the lead on several fronts, dealing with Russia, China, and—above all—the United States. Although they may be opposites in style and political outlook, Macron and Trump are both outsiders, and each has challenged their respective political establishments. This gives Macron an entrée to Trump that the French president is determined to use for the interests of Europe, particularly on trade, Iran, and Syria. And if anyone can persuade Trump to rejoin the Paris climate change accords it is Macron.
Europe should support Macron. Whether all member states are behind the him depends very much on the alignment of their interests with France on issues such as the EU budget, migration, taxation—plus who he will align with in the European Parliament and who he will support in the carve up of EU top jobs next year.
Daniel GrosDirector of the Centre for European Policy Studies
Way behind! Macron’s vision of European integration as a way to recover sovereignty is not shared by many other leaders and hasn’t attracted much support among the wider public, either.
In Germany there is widespread agreement, at least among the policy-making elite, that Berlin should contribute to the initiatives of this Europhile French president. But in most other member states the national interest dominates everything else. Moreover, populism has advanced the idea across the EU that the nation must be protected against foreign influences, preferably by closing borders and reinforcing the control of the national government at home.
This disconnect between perceived popular needs is particularly evident on Macron’s proposed eurozone reforms. With the memory of the financial crisis fading, it becomes ever more difficult to make the urgent case to complete the so-called European banking union. And with the economy now in a solid upswing, it becomes harder to argue that the eurozone needs a large budget to provide Brussels with an instrument to stabilize demand during cyclical downswings.
Many experts agree with Macron’s argument that the euro area needs reforms to prepare for the next crisis. But the grim political reality is that he has left the rest of Europe too far behind his ambitious plans.
Morgan GuérinHead of the Europe Program at Institut Montaigne
Emmanuel Macron’s speech at the European Parliament on April 17 could be interpreted as a response to the overwhelming victory of Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party in Hungary the previous week. The French president has found a quite catchy formula: Europe has the choice between giving its authority back to liberal democracy and jumping onto the train of authoritarian democracies.
But the opposition between “liberal” and “illiberal” democracies is only one of many. The national reforms led by Macron have yet to convince Germany of the necessity of the French proposals regarding the eurozone. The most fervent NATO supporters are observing with suspicion the European Intervention Initiative that Paris is also pushing for. Immigration is still an issue dividing East and West, while the next Italian government remains uncertain.
One year from the next European elections, Macron appears to be relatively alone in defending his European project. But the European Parliament could be the epicenter of a profound renewal. In every member state, Macron’s team is trying to convince parties to form a new EU parliamentary group. Once these new alliances are finalized—and if they are—will Emmanuel Macron still seem isolated?
François HeisbourgSpecial adviser at Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique
Last year in France, a large majority of voters rejected the national and European status quos. In so doing, a plurality preferred a young, open-society, pro-EU, reform-minded candidate to the closed-society, anti-EU leaders of the extreme right or left. The problem for Macron is that this combination does not apply in most other EU member states.
Germany voted for a European status quo that delivers jobs, growth, and self-satisfaction. Even the AfD wants the “good parts” of the status quo—provided that non-EU foreigners are kept out. With their own specificities, the Benelux states, Iberia, the Nordics, and the Baltics also belong to the “the less change, the better” camp. If Germany doesn’t follow Macron, these member states won’t either.
Those rejecting the status quo tend to move outwards (like the UK) or backwards (like the successor states of the Habsburg Empire), but not forward. Poland rejects two-speed Europe while moving away from EU norms. Yet others, such as Greece and Ireland, have concerns of their own that cramp their ability to operate at the European level. That leaves one with Italy, an important but not particularly solid reed.
In other words, we are thrown back to the proposition that nothing much will happen unless Germany is shaken out of its complacency: that may require a substantial external geopolitical or geoeconomic shock.
Rem KortewegHead of the Europe in the World unit at the Clingendael Institute
Partially. On foreign policy, European governments will have silently cheered Macron on this week as he strode hand-in-hand with Trump across the White House lawn. All eyes were on the French president and his attempts to soften his American counterpart’s protectionist reflexes and to convince him of the benefits of the Iran deal. After all, Macron is perhaps Europe’s best hope for improving EU-U.S. relations at a time of increasing transatlantic discord.
On Macron’s EU ambitions, European governments are more measured. Among a group of eight Northern countries, led by the Netherlands, there is concern that Macron’s ideas for a common EU finance ministry or a joint eurozone budget may lead the EU in the direction of a transfer union. They published a position paper in March pushing for the completion of existing plans—such as the European banking union—rather than initiating new reforms. This thinking resonates in Germany’s CDU circles, too. Meanwhile, Italy—a possible French ally in moving forward with EMU reform—remains preoccupied with its own coalition formation process. And so Macron’s hopes for eurozone reform may well come to naught.
Paradoxically, there is broad agreement that a stronger Eurozone requires Macron to succeed in his domestic reform agenda. He will want something in return from Europe for pushing through painful structural reforms. A delicate balancing act awaits: European governments want Macron to succeed, but at the EU-level may not give him what he needs.
Philippe Le CorreNonresident senior fellow in the Europe and Asia Programs at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
There is little doubt the election of Emmanuel Macron almost a year ago has changed the mood in Europe, especially in the South. Following the 2008-2009 financial crisis, many southern European countries had been looking for an alternative to Germany’s economic-turned-political supremacy, which is even more important in a post-Brexit context.
The Greeks were already impressed with François Hollande in the summer 2015, when France played a constructive role in keeping Athens in the eurozone. “After five years of playing second fiddle—and to Berlin’s tune at that—Paris rediscovered its status as coequal leader of the European project,” the Financial Times wrote at the time. Macron was one of the French ministers involved in these events, and his election a year ago has been well received by the governments of Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Belgium, among those in need of a more balanced leadership in the EU.
After all, in May 2017, 66 percent of the French electorate voted for a pro-EU presidential candidate, and the French clearly expressed their pro-European views during the parliamentary elections as well. In my recent travels in southern Europe, I have felt a renewed interest for Macron’s inclusive, pro-European agenda.
Stefan LehneVisiting scholar at Carnegie Europe
Macron must find his efforts to reform the EU frustrating. At home, he can decide; in the EU, he needs to persuade—and so far, he is not making much headway. Most seriously, Germany’s position on eurozone reform falls far short of his ambitions.
While there will be a joint German-French initiative in June, it will most likely focus on adjustments of the banking union and leave his core project of a eurozone based on solidarity for later. A Dutch-led Nordic alliance of eight finance ministers has taken a highly restrictive view on monetary union. Expect the net payers to push back against Macron’s proposals for European funding for projects ranging from cyber technology to clean cars to defense to African economic development. And several Central European governments are deeply hostile to his concept of a “sovereign Europe.” Macron had hoped to overcome this resistance by forging ahead with a group of reform-minded countries, but neither Germany nor the European Commission support a radical “two-speed” approach.
Does this all mean that Macron is already defeated? Far from it. “Macronmania” might be over, but many European leaders are broadly supportive of his reform agenda. If he deploys his considerable powers of persuasion, he can move things forward. But it will be the typical long EU slog rather than the fireworks of the Sorbonne speech. Will Macron have the necessary patience and persistence?
Claudia MajorSenior associate for international security at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP)
At least, Macron is definitely behind Europe. He has a vision of where to take the old continent. It is about restoring trust in the European way of doing things and in the ability of liberal democracy to deliver. It is not only about reforming the eurozone, it is about taking the European model to the next level. His bold idea of European sovereignty is, as two French analysists recently described, no less than the European answer to Trump’s America First policy.
Yet not all Europeans have grasped Macron’s vision; and for many, it is not the right direction for the EU. Reactions have hardly been enthusiastic, ranging from lukewarm support (as with Germany) to criticism (from countries like Poland). Getting the support of as many Europeans as possible is crucial, but none of Macron’s ideas are likely to succeed without Germany’s backing. Franco-German agreement seems more difficult to reach than ever, and several EU partners contest their leadership at the European level.
However, criticism will not stop Macron. For him, the global situation from Russia to Trump is forcing Europe to get its act together and to defend its way of doing things. The question is whether Paris and Berlin will be able to muster enough clout.
Sophie PedderParis bureau chief at the Economist
Emmanuel Macron took office seeking a grand bargain with Germany over the eurozone as a means of reinforcing Europe’s core. Judging by that measure, he looks set to be disappointed. Looking at his broader ambitions, though, Europe could turn out to be more united behind the French president than it might at first appear.
Macron had hoped to trade French domestic reform for German concessions in order to reshape the euro area. He has called Berlin’s bluff, passing reforms on the labor market, education system, and fiscal policy. Yet in return, Angela Merkel shows little inclination or ability to back Macron’s eurozone ideas. Instability in Italy, populist-nationalism in Poland, and wariness among a Dutch-led group of fiscal conservative countries are forcing Macron to scale back his ambitions.
Yet Macron’s love-in with Trump hints at another route to strengthening his hand in Europe. Some of the French president’s other ideas—from taxing American digital giants to screening Chinese investment in strategic sectors—draw broader backing. He may not secure what he wants from Trump. But the more credible he can be as Europe’s envoy to Washington, the more the young French leader may be able to make progress on his ambitions for Europe.
Marc PieriniVisiting scholar at Carnegie Europe
President Emmanuel Macron was elected in 2017 on a pro-EU ticket, very much counter to a rather anti-EU mood across France and Europe.
Whether Macron’s victory can translate into acceptable reforms at home and therefore transform his sudden rise on France’s electoral stage into a lasting political force is the next question. This in turn needs support from a more-fragile-than-expected Germany and a clearer commitment to EU reforms from countries like Austria, where the chancellor is notably pro-EU, unlike his extreme- right partners; Italy, where no coalition has emerged so far and where the popular mood is anti-EU; Spain, which is still navigating a lingering political crisis; and Central European states, where there is a notable nationalist sentiment.
Another question is whether Macron will be accepted as a role model in other EU countries. It’s not obvious that his posture of being a natural leader for Europe—very much in France’s Gaullian tradition—will please political forces across the other member states. The political landscape of 1960—a Europe composed of six members, enjoying unwavering U.S. support while bitterly confronting the Soviet block—has changed radically, and the necessity to unite is a lot less obvious. Macron’s political gamble of holding popular debates about the EU across the entire continent will therefore not be an easy one to win, but it is definitely worth a try.
Charles PowellDirector of the Elcano Royal Institute in Madrid
Though widely admired for his energy and charisma, there is little appetite in Europe for Macron’s reform proposals, particularly amongst the eight northern EU member states that oppose deeper economic integration and the increasingly disenchanted Visegrad Four. Of the larger states, Spain is probably alone in endorsing innovations such as the European Monetary Fund, a eurozone budget, and a European finance minister, a position shared by many of the smaller, pro-integration states. Italy, currently distracted by its domestic political difficulties, abandoned this group some time ago.
What really matters is how Germany responds to these proposals. But Merkel has lost much of the authority she once enjoyed, and Macron’s plans are regarded with deep suspicion by both the CDU and her Social Democrat coalition partners. The two leaders will nevertheless submit a joint reform proposal to the June European Council, which will probably result in an underwhelming compromise that will provoke neither enthusiasm nor dismay. At best, this will be yet another exercise in muddling through.
The question is whether it will suffice to equip the EU—and the eurozone in particular—with the instruments necessary to deal with the next economic crisis, which may already be in the making.
Gianni RiottaMember of the Council on Foreign Relations
It depends. President Macron is youthful, brimming with energy and zest, and certain of his role in shaping Europe’s future. Yet he may be, sooner than expected, disappointed at home and abroad.
Despite affecting a “bromance” with Donald Trump, with a lot of shared macho posturing during the French president’s U.S. state visit, Macron sees himself as a character shaping the twenty-first century. Europe is led by grizzled, cynical, wary veterans. Merkel, the status quo’s most decent leader, has been weakened and is squeezed by two men she despises: Trump and Putin.
Pundits predicted that a Merkel-Macron tandem could lead Europe in a post-Draghi, Trumpian world. They were wrong. With just a hint of economic slowdown in the air, with Italy stuck without a cabinet for almost two months, and with Eastern Europeans grumbling about “their” money going now south, Macron leads the charge in praise of European values—but the EU marches behind without order or discipline.
Stephen SzaboResident senior fellow at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies
Europe will support Macron’s idea of a Europe that protects. This means tighter border controls, more cooperation on migration (including efforts to prevent refugees from reaching Europe), and closer counterterrorism cooperation. Add to this a European defense against President Trump’s trade policies.
Beyond this set of issues there is little consensus among EU member states. Macron’s vision for a serious effort in defense cooperation will not convince many East European states, which still only trust NATO for their security; and few are willing to spend more on defense. The eurozone remains divided along largely north-south lines and is unlikely to agree on Macron’s sweeping proposals for reform. The idea of a multispeed Europe led by the Franco-German tandem is a non-starter—not only among many of the smaller states but now also in Berlin. Macron remains the most prominent European leader both by the force of his personality and by default. The few other EU nations that also have strong leaders tend to be those most in opposition to the European project. Europe has never had a single leader, and there are few signs this has changed.
Paul TaylorContributing editor at POLITICO and senior fellow at Friends of Europe
Emmanuel Macron has raised hope around Europe that a more dynamic, modernizing France with a young, pro-European leader will inject new energy into the EU and help turn back populism. Since his initiative-studded Sorbonne speech, Macron’s agenda has become the focus of debate on the future of Europe.
His vision of a “Europe that protects” with a stronger eurozone, more capable defense, fairer protection of labor standards, and a more assertive trade policy has many admirers. He offers something for all—economic reforms to satisfy the Germans; a firm line on Russia that pleases the Poles, Nordics, Balts, and British; and a rapport with Donald Trump that may avert tariffs or diplomatic wars.
But Macron has elicited resistance from politicians and old parties who fear being swept aside in next year’s European elections and from governments wary of French dominance.
Northern states, including Germany, reject his call for a eurozone budget, finance minister, and parliament, fearing a “transfer union” through the back door. Smaller countries see the French longing for a “directoire” of big states returning in sheep’s clothing, despite Macron’s outreach to Northern and Central Europe.
The most promising leader of this European generation deserves more support. Instead, Europe stands “behind Macron” like a pantomime villain lurks behind the hero. “Where is he, kiddies?”
Pierre VimontSenior fellow at Carnegie Europe
France and its EU partners have always experienced a complicated relationship. Because of its historical ambivalence toward Europe, for many years France has promoted a vision of Europe essentially shaped for French interests and leadership, which logically irritated its EU partners. These same partners, while calling for France to indulge in its role of providing ambitious European initiatives, never missed an opportunity to complain afterwards about France’s arrogance. These protests grew even louder when such initiatives, as they usually do, imply joining forces with Germany. Both nations are then criticized for being too domineering, just as the same two member states are accused of negligence when they stay put.
From Schumann to Giscard to Mitterrand and now Macron, this modern European Kabuki has been regularly applied. Today, two new elements have been added. First, Brexit is transforming the EU’s internal geopolitics, leaving Germany alone to counterbalance France’s new ambitions—which explains to some extent the cautiousness currently observed in Berlin. Second, Macron himself seems to favor, in his efforts to reinvigorate Europe, the overhaul of the EU political parties system as he did at home. Unsurprisingly, this can only stir resistance outside of France and leave Macron on his own, at least for the time being.