Judy Asks: Is France Europe’s Redeemer?
JUDY DEMPSEY — WEDNESDAY, MAY 10, 2017
Cornelius Adebahr — Nonresident fellow at Carnegie Europe
If it helps the French to think of themselves as Europe’s redeemers, so be it. Yes, nearly twice as many of them voted in the second round of the 2017 presidential election for the avowedly pro-European candidate as for his xenophobic opponent, but a full 10 million opted for the latter (while 4 million cast invalid or blank votes). That’s twice the number of votes that the far-right National Front garnered in 2002, when it was last represented in the second round. Clearly, many French are discontented and willing to support the extremes, and Emmanuel Macron’s policy proposals are unlikely to win them over.
This notwithstanding, the new French president has the power of momentum on his side. If he can translate his victory into a strong showing in the parliamentary election on June 11 and 18 — a big if — then he also has a mandate for the EU reforms he proposes. After the general election in Germany in September, he can reenergize the Franco-German couple, starting with reform proposals for the eurozone as well as more generous economic policies.
Yet Macron’s victory is part of a citizens’ movement not only in France but across all of Europe. People are taking to the streets to voice their support for an EU usually thought of as uninspiring and dull. That’s where to look for real European redemption.
Rosa Balfour — Senior fellow in the Europe Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States
French President-elect Emmanuel Macron’s path ahead is mired by so many hurdles that it is too early to see France redeeming Europe. Leaving aside the challenges of the French legislative election on June 11 and 18, the next government, and the growing strength of the far-right National Front, Europe will be redeemed only if there is a new deal on the economy and its governance. Paris and Berlin are the starting point, which the rest of the EU needs to wholeheartedly endorse. At this stage, it is far from clear whether the political conditions in France, Germany, and elsewhere will allow that.
But Macron’s program — and the way the campaign unfolded, ending with Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on victory night — may bring unexpected novelties to the debate about the EU. The days in which the EU was barely mentioned in national politics (and, when it was, was depicted as made up of gray and faceless technocrats) may be over. Macron’s different narrative from the populist Euroskeptic hatred of the cosmopolitan elite is more than a communication stunt; it has substance. He is raising the bar for the EU to find a new relevance and identify issues around which to reframe the political debate.
Politicians across Europe will start to copy his example. The EU may be about to become political; its institutions will have to change too to live up to this pitch.
Alice Baudry — Head of international affairs at the Institut Montaigne
French President-elect Emmanuel Macron’s victory is the best news Europe has had in a while, but for it to lead to redemption, France needs to play its part in strengthening Europe’s economy and overcoming its security challenges. And there’s no time to lose.
French President-elect Emmanuel Macron’s victory is the best news Europe has had in a while
If France manages this summer to conduct structural reforms to alter the rigidity of its labor market, Germany, whose next parliamentary election takes place in September, will have no choice but to engage in a game-changing Franco-German dialogue to boost the eurozone engine, fuel Europe’s economic growth, and propel the union to the position of undisputed world leader. A strong euro will make it easier not only to ensure transparent trade policies but also to coordinate countries to centralize a variety of sectors that will benefit from common regulations, like finance, energy, and digital technology.
Europe’s global standing depends on the union’s security and military capabilities, too. From this standpoint, Macron has proposed reaching the target of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense by 2025. On top of this necessary condition, France must agree to speak about migration with an open mind, given the numbers of immigrants Germany and Sweden have taken in. This requires an in-depth, constructive consideration of European foreign policy, concentrating first on Syria.
Sophia Besch — Research fellow at the Centre for European Reform
Europe the sinner, at last redeemed by the grace of French President-elect Emmanuel Macron, set to the music of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony — Europhiles may be forgiven for enjoying this fantasy on the evening of May 7.
But France’s feel-good victory for liberalism is not enough to compensate for Europe’s past performance. Macron’s win may be a battle lost for populists. But the war against illiberal politics will not be won until the EU deals with its three cardinal sins: the flaws in its currency, its chaotic response to the refugee crisis, and its failure to protect Europeans against terrorism.
What can France do? Macron wants Germany to cooperate in redesigning eurozone governance and boosting European security cooperation. In turn, he promises to strengthen France’s economy and support Germany’s open stance on refugees.
But Germany may prove unwilling to budge on fiscal matters. And a joint EU response to refugees or terrorism will be possible only if Paris and Berlin can convince Europe’s East and South. Finally, Macron knows that he was elected by the French people — they, not Brussels, are his first priority.
Macron’s victory is good news, but no one is redeemed yet. Europe should turn down the Beethoven and get to work.
Federiga Bindi — Senior fellow at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, director of the Foreign Policy Initiative at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, and D. German distinguished visiting chair at Appalachian State University
Yes, indeed. After electoral defeats for populists in Austria and the Netherlands, the presidential contest in France proved that the Brexit vote and the election of U.S. President Donald Trump were not the results of an unstoppable populist wave, and that European citizens value EU membership. Contrary to what many claimed in Washington, DC, the EU is not going to collapse.
On the contrary, assuming Angela Merkel remains German chancellor after September’s parliamentary election — likely at the head of a coalition government — and a similar outcome emerges from Italy’s spring 2018 election, Old Europe will work on relaunching the European construction. Merkel has already suggested to French President-elect Emmanuel Macron the creation of a joint executive. Should a true pro-European prime minister be named in Italy in 2018, as is likely, the time may have come to finally create a European federation.
Krzysztof Bledowski — Council director and senior economist at the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation
France provided salvation to Europe only in the sense of avoiding a third strike after the UK’s Brexit vote and the U.S. presidential election in 2016. A win for the far-right National Front in the 2017 French presidential election might have sunk popular faith in the West’s liberal values of open markets and individual freedom among wide swaths of EU voters. That said, French President-elect Emmanuel Macron is no Jesus capable of redeeming the flailing European flocks.
France needs leadership in reforming its economic model.
The EU remains barely popular across the continent. As evidenced in the U.S. election, voters’ fears of open markets and immigration reflect a lasting discontent. Yet unlike the American credo of exceptionalism that spans the nation, Europeans cling to their local identities, sapping EU cohesion along the way.
Nonetheless, Macron’s victory will stand the EU in good stead. He will work closely with other pro-EU leaders to bridge differences in a host of policy areas, including the EU’s banking union, Brexit, and structural reform. His youthful optimism and energy will be welcome in Berlin, which looks up to Paris for shared authority and ideas.
Finally, France needs leadership in reforming its economic model. The new president is just the man for the job. A more prosperous France will translate into more pro-EU sentiment for the long haul.
Lizza Bomassi — Deputy director of Carnegie Europe
No. As much as the mainstream in France would like to see itself that way, the unfortunate reality is that the members of France’s political class are far too divided and have brought the French populace with them.
The real test will be the legislative election in June and whether President-elect Emmanuel Macron can form a strong enough coalition to effectively rule the National Assembly and the Senate. As the first round of the French presidential election showed, the popular vote is divided between extremes that reject globalization and Europeanization, with a centrist without an established party in the middle. The traditional Left is out, and what’s left of the Right is in shambles. For a profoundly socialist country, this has to hurt, because all bets are off.
Macron’s challenge, as he pointed out in his acceptance speech on May 7, is to be a president for all these competing interests — many of which go against the grain of his realpolitik agenda. Unfortunately, it’s likely going to be much more about concessions and negotiations on the domestic front than about the strong French leadership that Europe needs to act as a complementary powerhouse to Germany. With the UK’s impending exit from the EU, mainstream Europe will have to look to other sources of inspiration for redemption.
Frédéric Bozo — Senior fellow at the Transatlantic Academy and professor at the Sorbonne Nouvelle University in Paris
During the French presidential election campaign, Emmanuel Macron did not shrink from courageously defending the European project and France’s participation in it. Yet Macron is aware that the EU needs a major fix, particularly when it comes to the management and, more fundamentally, the economic model of the eurozone, which he knows is unsustainable in its current form. He is therefore determined to act in what he believes is a matter of life or death for the European idea.
Five years ago, his predecessor as president, François Hollande, called for a reorientation of Europe, only to see this request promptly shelved. This time around, things are different. Rather than procrastinating at home, Macron is willing to push through reforms to give credibility to his European ambition, which he has called no less than a “refoundation” of the European project.
As a result, the onus will be on Germany, which is now engaged in its own major election campaign. The question is whether German leaders understand that Macron’s election, though a challenge to the eurozone orthodoxy they advocate, was the best possible outcome for Berlin — and is perhaps the last chance to fix Europe.
Erik Brattberg — Director of the Europe Program and fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
French President-elect Emmanuel Macron alone cannot solve Europe’s problems, but a strong and confident Paris is an essential ingredient for sorting out the EU’s current malaise. France’s lackluster economic and political performance over the past decade has been negative for the EU, shifting too much of the leadership burden onto Germany. If Macron can overcome structural impediments at home and make good on his domestic reform promises, he might rejuvenate prospects for Franco-German cooperation in breaking deadlocks on reform of the eurozone and the wider EU. Such a realignment of power in Europe is even more important in the wake of the UK’s Brexit vote.
Paris could once again be in the driver’s seat of the European project
Under this scenario, Paris could once again be in the driver’s seat of the European project instead of merely a bystander, spearheading crucial reforms and taking new initiatives. One of those might be to inject new momentum into the debate on stronger European defense collaboration, an issue that has become more relevant since the election of U.S. President Donald Trump.
However, should Macron’s domestic and European agenda backfire, it could further embolden populists such as France’s Marine Le Pen. It therefore behooves Europe’s mainstream leaders, particularly German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to strike an accord with the new Europhile French president from the start.
Piotr Buras — Head of the Warsaw Office of the European Council on Foreign Relations
Despite Emmanuel Macron’s presidential election victory, France remains one of the main risks for Europe. The prospects for necessary reforms are uncertain, and support for extreme political forces is worryingly high. France is a pivotal country: should Macron fail, his redeeming effect would turn into the opposite.
For Europe, his presidency may have profound but ambiguous consequences. Economic and eurozone reform will enjoy priority but will also mean hardship for citizens. To ease the pain, Macron may be tempted to embark on a protectionist agenda within the EU: boosting the EU’s social pillar, fighting social dumping, and imposing restrictions on labor mobility. He would find supporters in Western Europe, for example in Austria, but would deepen divisions between East and West at the same time. Also, even if his domestic policy succeeds, Macron cannot redeem the EU or the eurozone on his own.
Much will depend on Germany and its ability to support Macron by relaxing the bloc’s economic orthodoxy and opening up to more ambitious reforms of the eurozone’s architecture. The key factor would be not so much a victory for the Social Democrats’ candidate for chancellor, Martin Schulz, in Germany’s September parliamentary election as the party’s grab for the Ministry of Finance in a new coalition government and the departure of current conservative Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble.
Frances Burwell — Distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council
Whether France is Europe’s redeemer will depend in large part on whether President-elect Emmanuel Macron becomes France’s redeemer. From a U.S. perspective, France is still a major power in Europe, but it has been far behind Germany — and even the UK — in terms of capabilities and influence. Paris has been a strong U.S. ally, especially since rejoining the NATO integrated command in 2009, but France’s stalled and conflicted economy greatly limits its role in Europe.
Yet a Europe led by Germany alone is not stable, even if Berlin has not sought that role. The EU will only truly be strong if more countries join the bloc’s leadership. France may have turned the populist tide in Europe, but unless its economy begins to grow more, the forces of populism will be back with a vengeance, not only in France, but also elsewhere in Europe.
Thus, Macron’s first priority must be economic reform. He must create an effective relationship with the parties that govern the new National Assembly after the parliamentary election on June 11 and 18 and must push through economic reforms. Only then can Macron make France the redeemer of Europe.
David Cadier — Associate at LSE IDEAS, London School of Economics
Europe does not need redemption, but a reboot and reforms.
As a founding member of the EU and one of the bloc’s heavyweights, France has an important part to play and seems better positioned to do so under the presidency of Emmanuel Macron. Whereas France’s 2005 referendum on the proposed EU constitution marked a halt in European integration, the 2017 presidential election could trigger a new dynamic. Its success can only be collective, however.
France will need to engage more proactively with other member states
Macron won the election waving the EU flag, both figuratively and literally. His victory demonstrated that Europe can be at the center of successful political projects and does not have to bow to populist strategies. This positive identity politics could, in turn, invite more audacity from national governments. Macron’s implementation of promised domestic structural reforms can also relaunch the Franco-German engine, which many regard as central to the EU machinery.
Domestically, the ability of the new French president to conduct reforms will depend on his capacity to secure a political majority in the parliament and overcome societal divisions. At the EU level, beyond Germany and traditional allies, France will need to engage more proactively with other member states as well, even if differentiated integration eventually becomes the norm.
Fraser Cameron — Director of the EU-Asia Centre
French President-elect Emmanuel Macron cannot save the EU alone. His first priority will be to manage a sensitive political landscape at home, by securing a working majority in the French parliament and showing that he can turn words into action on reforming the economy.
He then needs to reach out to Berlin, which will be ready to embrace him if he shows that he can drive reforms at home. The Franco-German motor has been stuttering for some time, but it is essential for the EU to regain momentum. Paris and Berlin do not always see eye to eye on economic or security issues, but they will need to compromise to ensure that progress can be made.
Other member states may not like the new axis between Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but the way to gain influence is to stand up to populist forces and contribute to the debate on reforming the EU. Macron has shown that this strategy can win elections; let others follow suit.
Koert Debeuf — Director of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, Europe
Yes, and for three reasons. First, with his victory, French President-elect Emmanuel Macron proved that it is possible to win elections without echoing the messages of the far Right. He showed a politician can gather a majority with a centrist, cosmopolitan, pro-European, inclusive campaign. France has made an important political point: the trend in Europe is not necessarily anti-EU, anti-euro, and anti-immigration. This assertion will inspire many political leaders across Europe to redirect their discourse and policies in a more positive way.
Second, Macron’s victory will give the EU institutions new confidence. The post-Brexit trauma and the feeling of dysfunction will be replaced by a new boost of hope that reform and progress in the EU are still possible.
Third, the attempts to interfere in the French presidential election by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (with an attack a few days before the first round) and by Russia and the U.S. alt-right (through hacking and leaking e-mails of Macron’s team) didn’t help far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. This might be the birth of a new public awareness of the anti-liberal and anti-EU agenda of these forces. If so, this will reinforce European integration and Europe’s position in the world.
Claire Demesmay — Head of the Franco-German Relations Program at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP)
No doubt, it is a great relief to see a convinced European coming to power in France. It shows that national egoisms and centrifugal forces are not inevitably programmed to win in Europe. Will Emmanuel Macron’s election victory bring stability and cohesion to the EU, or even give a push to European integration? One thing is certain: to turn his pro-European discourse into a new dynamic for the EU, the new French president should step up to two big challenges.
Macron should convince the French people that Europe is less a problem than a solution for France.
First, he should convince the French people that Europe is less a problem than a solution for France. A large part of the French population expects more protection, both in the social field and in internal security, especially relating to terrorism. The strong anti-EU atmosphere in the election campaign is explained by a longtime disappointment with European policies. That will change only if people’s uncertainties wear off.
Second, Macron should convince France’s European partners — in the first place, Germany — of the necessity of eurozone reform. Priorities and concepts differ, and compromises are far from easy, but time is short. The way to Europe’s redemption will be long and paved with difficulties, but it is worth trying.
Sophie Gaston — Head of international projects and external affairs at Demos
French President-elect Emmanuel Macron’s victory offers a beacon of hope to an EU under siege from combative forces inside and out. His decision to campaign on a boldly pro-European platform defied a widespread trend of mainstream politicians adopting the rhetoric, strategies, and policies of far-right populist parties, which have framed the EU as a threat to the sovereignty and cultural independence of its member states. The broad legitimation of anti-European discourse across the political spectrum in many European countries enabled Macron to pitch himself as a fringe candidate for his radically Eurocentric views.
Brussels will be delighted to welcome this charismatic new flag bearer, but there are choppy waters still to navigate. At home, Macron must first cobble together a parliamentary mandate in the legislative election on June 11 and 18, to secure national support for his bold domestic and EU reforms. In Berlin, the hopeful prospect of a renewed Franco-German alliance can be realized only on the back of compromise on a new economic approach that supersedes German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble’s austerity program.
France has stepped away from the ledge, and Macron’s presidency could spark a productive new period for Europe, but there are crucial hurdles to overcome first.
István Hegedűs — Chairman of the Hungarian Europe Society
In the second round of the French presidential election on May 7, the difference between the supporters of a European France and the believers in a Little France was not just a slim margin. Emmanuel Macron’s overwhelming victory brought back optimism for the future of the European project and liberal democracy.
Some might be skeptical in the long run: if the new centrist president fails in France, it may be time for Marine Le Pen, the leader of the country’s angry anti-European electorate, to grasp power. But not necessarily: the logic of political life is not linear. And if Macron becomes relatively successful, he may be reelected in 2022 à la Barack Obama.
If mainstream democratic forces elsewhere in Europe present comprehensive political and ideological visions, introduce institutional and structural renewal, and supply fresh policy proposals combined with professional communication skills drawing on the French experience, then populists can be defeated at the national, regional, and European levels. Representatives of German liberal democracy are unlikely to lose against the populist challenger in the September parliamentary election, so the center of the EU — Franco-German cooperation — will become stronger and more self-confident. With a new élan, the EU can be saved and reformed.
Kirsty Hughes — Director of the Scottish Centre on European Relations
The election of Emmanuel Macron as France’s new president gives Europe hope. But no one person or country can be Europe’s redeemer.
The EU has become unbalanced economically and politically: a lack of solidarity and a lack of commitment to basic values underpin many of the big challenges the EU faces, from waning democracy in Hungary to youth unemployment in Greece, Portugal, and Spain to attempts to build a Fortress Europe.
A revitalized France can help rebuild solidarity inside and outside the EU
A revitalized France can help rebuild solidarity inside and outside the EU, to bring dynamism and hope back to the European project. But it will take a new strategy and approach from all EU member states, not just France. Much has been made of the prospects for a renewed Franco-German motor, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s statements do not suggest any flexibility on austerity. Even so, a more confident, proactive France can provide one key element in ensuring the current North-South and East-West divisions in the EU start to mend. But the process will take time and need more political leadership and strategy than has been on display for some years now.
Europe doesn’t need a redeemer. It needs strategy, values, and solidarity.
Bruno Maçães — Partner at Flint Global
I see it as almost the exact opposite. Politically, France is a mess. Economically, the jury is still out. In the 2017 French presidential election, the EU played a stabilizing role, helping Emmanuel Macron win and blocking the way for radical solutions — much as it has done across Southern Europe. By backing Macron, two-thirds of French voters chose Europe, in part because the EU looks much stronger now than it did two years ago.
Marc Pierini — Visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe
Let’s hope that President-elect Emmanuel Macron first becomes the redeemer of French politics. In less than one year, he single-handedly wiped out the country’s political leadership and rendered obsolete two past presidents and three past prime ministers, all vying for presidential office. The next step is to end bigotry, fearmongering, and lies in French politics.
Regarding Europe, Macron can become a redeemer in two complementary ways. First, he can team up with Germany and other member states to reinvigorate the EU around core policies: currency and budget, security and defense, asylum and immigration, foreign policy, and the environment. The challenge will be to convince the largest possible number of countries to adhere to this core EU.
Second, by virtue of his two-thirds majority in the presidential election, he will have a strong voice and legitimacy in defending the EU in talks with those leaders who have recently shown disdain, hostility, or both toward the EU, for example Russia’s Vladimir Putin, America’s Donald Trump, or Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The upcoming NATO and G20 summits and their side encounters will constitute the first opportunities.
Macron’s victory is a victory for audacity, culture, and hope. His challenge on the European front now is to form a coalition of the willing.
Stephen Szabo — Executive director of the Transatlantic Academy
France will play a key role in reviving the European project, but it needs partners to make this happen. Germany is the most important by far, although even a recharged Franco-German engine will be a necessary but not a sufficient condition for a European revival.
French President-elect Emmanuel Macron’s positive approach to European unity, along with his proviso that the EU needs reforms, will inject new energy and optimism at a time when it is desperately needed. Like former U.S. president John F. Kennedy, he represents a generational shift of leadership and perspective that could speak to younger Europeans. He symbolizes the energy and dynamism of a younger generation that will have to provide new answers to the question “Why Europe?”
Macron will need counterparts in Berlin, Madrid, Rome, Warsaw, and Northern Europe, and it can only be hoped that Paris will be the first step in renewing leadership in a Europe that remains open and optimistic.
Jan Techau — Director of the Richard C. Holbrooke Forum at the American Academy in Berlin
Myth has it that U.S. founding father Thomas Jefferson once said, “Every man has two countries — France and his own.” Proof of the quote was never found, but the higher truth behind it is clear: every free person owes his or her freedom to the trailblazing boldness of the French Revolution, out of which modern liberty sprang.
No single country can be Europe’s redeemer, but one big failure is sufficient to derail it all.
The nature of today’s European affairs makes it impossible for one country to be Europe’s redeemer — if one is to accept redemption as a political category at all. And yet, reform progress in France will be crucial for the future of Europe. Next to Germany, France is the other anchor nation of what’s left of the EU after the UK’s Brexit vote, and the two will only be able to strike a healthy balance acceptable to all of Europe if France regains some of its strength and political agility.
Much will depend on whether French President-elect Emmanuel Macron can turn his victory into a legislative mandate and then into political success. Germany needs to help, just as much as Italy needs to reform its banks and its labor and tax laws. No single country can be Europe’s redeemer, but one big failure is sufficient to derail it all.