French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron has said France must prove itself to Germany in order to breathe new life into the partnership that has been at the heart of the European project for decades.
French politicians have long wished for a restoration of parity between Europe’s two largest economies.
Macron told the financial newspaper Les Echos that his country cannot expect Germany to take French proposals seriously unless its finds the courage to do structural reforms:
The usual gesture in French presidential campaigns is to say, “I will turn over the tables and reorient the Franco-German relationship.” That doesn’t make sense and it never works.
The former investment banker and economy minister, who is one of the favorites to succeed François Hollande as president in May, reiterated a French proposal to create a European economy and finance minister to oversee hundreds of billions of euros in investments across the eurozone.
Germany has resisted this, fearing that spendthrift Mediterraneans will use an investment fund as a way to circumvent deficit rules and forego liberalizations.
Cuts and investments
In the Socialist Hollande’s cabinet, Macron was an economic reformer. He made it possible for small companies to opt out of collective bargaining agreements and introduced competition in intercity transport.
He is now running as an independent on a promise to go further.
He told Les Echos that he would push for budget cuts, by reining in rising health costs and devolving spending decisions to local authorities, as well as investments in job retraining and green energy.
Job retraining isn’t a new idea. The outgoing government has also poured hundreds of millions of euros into this, but to little avail. The unemployment rate has been stuck at 10 percent throughout Hollande’s tenure.
Neck and neck
Macron criticized the plan of his right-wing opponent, François Fillon, to cut unemployment benefits at a time when joblessness remains high. Rather, he proposed to roll different unemployment compensation schemes into one and extend it to the self-employed.
He also criticized Fillon’s tax policy, which he said would shift the burden from companies to families, although he did agree with the Republican that corporate tax needs to come down to around the European average of 25 percent.
Fillon and Macron are polling neck and neck to qualify for the second presidential voting round in May. Whoever prevails in the first round in April would likely beat the far right’s Marine Le Pen in the runoff.
Both men advocate liberal economic reforms. Macron’s social democratic vision may be more palatable to centrist French voters who have historically resisted sweeping change.