Macron Doesn’t Need to Appease the Far Right

Emmanuel Macron Mark Rutte
French president Emmanuel Macron speaks with Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte during a European Council summit in Brussels, June 24, 2018 (Elysée/Philippe Servent)

The worst argument against French president Emmanuel Macron’s latest EU reform push — made, among others, by the Russian-born Leonid Bershidsky, who writes for Bloomberg View from Germany, and the Dutch political commentator Peter van Nuijsenburg — is that it only provides ammunition for rival parties opposed to more European integration.

There are fair criticism to be made. Bershidsky also argues that Macron’s call for a European “renaissance” largely consists of adding more EU agencies and that what the bloc really needs is a shared Franco-German vision.

But the idea that less ambitious proposals, or no proposals at all, would appease the Euroskeptics is wrong. Read more “Macron Doesn’t Need to Appease the Far Right”

How Likely Is Macron’s European Renaissance?

Emmanuel Macron
French president Emmanuel Macron makes a speech in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, April 17, 2018 (European Parliament/Mathieu Cugnot)

In op-eds in newspapers across the continent, French president Emmanuel Macron has called for a renewal, or renaissance, of the European project.

It is his second big push for EU reform since his speech at the Sorbonne in September 2017.

At the time, I divided Macron’s proposals, which ranged from a common eurozone budget to a single European asylum office, into the difficult, doable and low-hanging fruit. (I didn’t get everything right; there is still no single European asylum policy but there will be a eurozone budget, if a much smaller one than Macron envisaged.)

Let’s use the same division this time. Read more “How Likely Is Macron’s European Renaissance?”

Macron Fights His Way Back

Christian Kern Emmanuel Macron
Austrian chancellor Christian Kern and French president Emmanuel Macron visit Salzburg, August 23, 2017 (BKA/Andy Wenzel)

Commentators outside France have been predicting Emmanuel Macron’s downfall from the beginning of his presidency.

My own view throughout has been that unpopularity is unlikely to keep Macron up at night. He has been reforming France so thoroughly and at such a fast pace that he was bound to make enemies everywhere. He has a long-enough mandate (five years) to see his reforms bear fruit. And because both the center-left and center-right are in disarray, there is no strong opposition against him.

That threatened to change this winter, when opponents of a fuel-tax increase donned fluorescent yellow vests and took to the streets. Suddenly reactionary France had a movement. Polls showed massive support. Macron hastily canceled the tax hike, the first time he had bowed to public pressure. His political obituaries were being rewritten again. Read more “Macron Fights His Way Back”

Fuel Tax Is Excuse for Reactionary France to Riot

Emmanuel Macron
French president Emmanuel Macron answers questions from reporters in Helsinki, Finland, August 30 (Office of the President of the Republic of Finland/Juhani Kandell)

Protests against a fuel tax increase in France have morphed into violent demonstrations against the presidency of Emmanuel Macron.

This weekend alone, 260 rioters were arrested in Paris, where cars were set ablaze and stores looted. A woman was killed in Marseille when a protester threw a tear gas canister through the window of her home.

The so-called Yellow Vests movement, named after the fluorescent safety vests French motorists are required to keep in their cars, started in opposition to higher taxes on diesel and gasoline. The increases are meant to help France meets its climate goals.

Diesel tax would rise 6.5 cents per liter, gasoline tax 2.9 cents. Leonid Bershidsky of Bloomberg calculates that the average motorist would end up paying €13 more per month. Hardly worth setting Paris on fire for.

The movement isn’t really about taxes then. It is that they have become a symbol for reactionaries who feel Macron has ignored them. Read more “Fuel Tax Is Excuse for Reactionary France to Riot”

Eurozone Budget Could Take Years

Emmanuel Macron Mark Rutte
French president Emmanuel Macron speaks with Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte during a European Council summit in Brussels, June 24 (Elysée/Philippe Servent)

The Financial Times reports that Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel have made a “breakthrough” on eurozone reform: the French and German leaders agree the currency union should get its own budget.

The move is good news for the French president, who has long believed that giving the single currency area its own resources will make it more resilient to economic crises.

But it is unlikely to come into being any time soon. Read more “Eurozone Budget Could Take Years”

Don’t Panic About Macron’s Falling Popularity

Emmanuel Macron
Emmanuel Macron arrives at the Elysée Palace in Paris for his inauguration as president of France, May 14, 2017 (Elysée/Nathalie Bauer)

I don’t get the liberal handwringing about Emmanuel Macron’s falling popularity.

A few recent examples:

  • The Financial Times fears that the French president is all that is standing between us and illiberal strongmen.
  • The Guardian argues that his liberal rhetoric is not backed up by action.
  • Der Spiegel predicts that Macron could lose his unofficial status as the flagship politician of the West.

I’ve argued before that polls are unlikely to keep the Frenchman up at night. The opposition still hasn’t got its act together and the next presidential election isn’t until 2022. That gives Macron plenty of time to repair his public image and for his now-divisive reforms to start bearing fruit. Read more “Don’t Panic About Macron’s Falling Popularity”

Macron, Salvini Represent Opposite Sides in Europe’s Culture War

Emmanuel Macron
French president Emmanuel Macron makes a speech in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, April 17 (European Parliament/Mathieu Cugnot)

Politico has a good story about how France’s Emmanuel Macron and Italy’s Matteo Salvini represent opposite sides in what I — per Andrew Sullivan — call .

Macron is a former investment banker who styles himself as a liberal champion of the European Union. Salvini, the leader of Italy’s far-right League party, has emerged as Europe’s leading nationalist — one who has pledged to bring the European project to a crashing halt.

Both are building transnational coalitions to contest the 2019 European Parliament elections. Read more “Macron, Salvini Represent Opposite Sides in Europe’s Culture War”

Europe Doesn’t Know How to Handle Trump, Macron Runs Tight Operation

Angela Merkel Donald Trump
German chancellor Angela Merkel speaks with American president Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, March 17, 2017 (Bundesregierung)

Stephen Walt argues in Foreign Policy that the diplomatic crisis around the Iran nuclear deal shows European leaders don’t know how to handle an American bully:

[I]nstead of getting tough with Trump and warning him that Europe would both stick to the deal and defy any subsequent US effort to impose secondary sanctions on them, [France, Germany and the United Kingdom] chose to mollify and flatter Trump instead.

It seems to no avail.

It pains me to admit it, but Walt has a point:

[T]he European response to Trump shows how successfully the United States has tamed and subordinated the former great powers that once dominated world politics. After seventy-plus years of letting Uncle Sam run the show, European leaders can barely think in strategic terms, let alone act in a tough-minded fashion when they are dealing with the United States.

I do think this is slowly changing. Trump is a wake-up call. The EU is rushing new trade agreements with Japan and Mexico. France is leading efforts to deepen European defense cooperation outside NATO. The Balts and Scandinavians are remilitarizing.

But deferring to America is a hard habit to kick. Read more “Europe Doesn’t Know How to Handle Trump, Macron Runs Tight Operation”

Macron Defends Rules-Based Pacific Order, Five Stars Call for New Elections

Paolo Gentiloni Emmanuel Macron
Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni is received by French president Emmanuel Macron in the Elysée Palace in Paris, September 27, 2017 (Elysée)

During a visit to Sydney, French president Emmanuel Macron said he wanted to work with the largest democracies in the region — Australia, India, Japan and the United States — to “balance” Chinese power and protect “rule-based development” in Asia.

“It’s important… not to have any hegemony in the region,” he said.

Australia has eyed accommodation with China since Donald Trump withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership in 2017. But Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, speaking alongside Macron, insisted his country is still committed to preserving a rules-based order.

France is a Pacific power. It has around one million citizens in the region. Read more “Macron Defends Rules-Based Pacific Order, Five Stars Call for New Elections”