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Five reasons Emmanuel Macron’s EU love-in cannot last

Emmanuel Macron has vowed to “turn a new page” on Europe after a decade of crisis and stagnation in which Eurosceptic sentiment has been on the rise, both in France and around the continent.

On the campaign trail, the young president-elect has promised to rebuild the links between the European Union and its citizens, both economically and politically.

He has promised a “Buy European Act” and EU ‘citizens conventions’ - and supports EU-wide constituencies for the European Parliament.

Here, with the help of leading analysts, EU diplomatic sources, and Mr Macron’s own policy guru Jean Pisani-Ferry, we look at five obstacles that lie between Mr Macron and the realisation of his new European dream.

1. All is not quiet on the eastern front

No-one should doubt the extent of Mr Macron’s belief in Europe. In his victory speech the young president-elect promised to “defend Europe” noting that “it is our civilisation that is at stake”.

That is a statement which puts Mr Macron on a direct collision course with the EU’s recalcitrant eastern states like Poland and Hungary whose leaders revel in the tag of “illiberal democracies” that celebrate national identity and what they call Europe's “Christian” culture.

Mr Macron’s vision for newly integrationist Europe pits him squarely against the angry east

The migration crisis of 2015 brought these dormant divisions exploding to the surface, as the eastern states openly rejected the liberal, multi-cultural, globalising values espoused by western Europe and typified by Mr Macron.

At one point on the campaign trail Mr Macron likened Poland’s hardline conservative government to the "regimes" of Russia's Vladimir Putin and the Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban, who is accused by Brussels of systematically attacking the freedoms of the academia and the press.

These tensions have been immediately evident, with Poland’s president Andrzej Duda saying in his congratulation message to Mr Macron that he looked forward to “fruitful cooperation on rebuilding the trust of Europeans” – clearly implying that that trust has broken down.

The EU’s east-west relations are already deeply strained, not least by Brexit and the €10 billion hole that leaves in the next seven-year EU budget. Mr Macron’s vision for newly integrationist Europe pits him squarely against the angry east.

2. Not to mention trouble on the home front

Mr Macron made all the right conciliatory noises in his victory speech at the Louvre, reaching out to the 10.5 million French who cast their vote for Marine Le Pen, describing them as “angry” and “anxious” and promising to listen to them.

But no-one should be under any illusion how profoundly Mr Macron’s view of the world is opposed to those who voted for Ms Le Pen. Mr Macron in his Programme for Europe could not be more explicit.

The consequences of so profoundly alienating what Ms Le Pen’s people call the new 'patriotic front' in France are potentially explosive

“True sovereignty is based on European action in a renewed democratic framework,” he writes.

Or as he tweeted: “Europe makes us bigger. Europe makes us stronger.” For Le Pen voters, and the many millions more French who made up the 49 per cent who voted for anti-EU parties in the first round, that is simply not the case.

For them, sovereignty is located not in “European action” but in the nation state.

We will see what kind of majority Mr Macron can win next month in France’s legislative elections, but whatever he manages, it will not be able to conceal this absolutely fundamental division.

The consequences of so profoundly alienating what Ms Le Pen’s people call the new “patriotic front” in France are potentially explosive.

3. And Germany’s Swabian housewife still won’t pay

Mr Macron says he is determined to pursue France’s longstanding vision of deeper Eurozone integration, ultimately with plans for a Eurozone budget and finance minister as well as common backstops for Eurozone depositors and unemployed.

The problem is that Germany has shown deep reluctance to buy into such schemes, fearing that it will set a bad example to Europe on the need for more fiscal discipline and – ultimately – that it will leave the prudent German “Swabian” housewife on the hook for the bills.

How long before the Franco-German relationship sinks back into the simmering sulky stand-off of the past decade?

Mr Macron’s senior policy advisers believe the time is right for Germany to show some flexibility in order to head off the populist threat embodied by Marine Le Pen and – perhaps even more seriously – the Italian Five Star Movement.

Jean Pisani-Ferry, the founder of the Bruegel think-tank who is Mr Macron’s policy guru, believes that Germany needs to wake up to the fact that Europe’s crises are now as much political as financial - before it is too late.

“The Germans were rightly very scared by the French election and the performance of Marine Le Pen. If she had won, that would have been massively destructive for everyone, including Germany which sits at the core of EU value-chains,” he tells me.

“These times are not business as usual. The Eurozone debt crisis [2011-12] was fundamentally a financial crisis, not a geopolitical crisis. Now we are in a very different type of environment where risk is as much political as it is economic - just look at Italy. We cannot just wait and hope for the best.”

Mrs Merkel greeted Mr Macron’s election with warm words, as was to be expected, but if the Franco-German alliance is to really be re-booted, Germany is going to have to give ground on a structural issue on which it has hitherto shown only instransigence.

Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, a pro-EU think tank thinks that Mrs Merkel, assuming she is re-elected in the Autumn, will have to give Mr Macron “at least some of what he wants”.

But how much? And if it’s not enough, as many analysts fear, how long before the Franco-German relationship sinks back into the simmering sulky stand-off of the past decade.

4. And claims on defence co-operation will ring hollow

In the absence of meaningful movement on Eurozone integration, both Berlin and Paris have set some store of late on defence co-operation as a symbol of the ‘new’ EU, issuing several joint papers on the subject.

It is hoped in Brussels that the UK’s departure in March 2019 could also accelerate Franco-German defence co-operation since the UK has been a constant brake on such ambitions, insisting that EU defence ideas never impinge on the primacy of Nato.

Once again the big European vision will have disappointed

The problem for Mr Macron is that on defence – as on so many issues – the French and the Germans don’t really agree. While Germany wants to focus on “institution building” and creating more European integration through “permanent strategic co-operation”, France wants actual capabilities that can be deployed to the field and lighten its own burden internationally.

France also wants more European Commission money to go on defence, but the reality that after Brexit, EU budgets are going to be under intense pressure, and in the current economic climate pouring cash into joint EU military procurement projects is going to be a tough ask.

The risk for Mr Macron is that after taking office, much of the new Franco-German defence co-operation will not add up to a row of tin soldiers. Once again the big European vision will have disappointed.

5. The Brexit blowback

Mr Macron has – quite literally – been flying the flag for Europe during his campaign and has promised to defend his ideal of Europe in the coming Brexit negotiations.

He has set a fierce tone, describing the British electorate’s choice as a “crime” against Europe and civilised western values, and vowing Brexit will bring “servitude” to Britain, not freedom or control.

Mr Pisani-Ferry tells the BBC that this does not mean Mr Macron intends to “punish” the UK, but to make it clear that “Europe is part of the solution”, not going-it-alone, like Britain.

If Mr Macron stands his ground, a true clash of values lies ahead

Whether or not you call it punishment, this puts France and Mr Macron on course for imposing an absolutely uncompromising Brexit settlement on Britain.

That, in turn, when the talks get down to brass tacks, could pit Mr Macron and France against other free-trading members states – like the Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland and the Flemish parts of Belgium – who prefer to prize trade ties over the theological orthodoxy of the European Union.

Today, Mr Macron wraps himself in the European flag, marching to his victory rally to the strains of the EU’s anthem, the Ode to Joy.

Tomorrow he must face the fact that his vision for Europe is no longer shared in many corners of the continent, indeed it is being overtly rejected. If Mr Macron stands his ground, a true clash of values lies ahead.

 

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