Driven, irritated, dangerous
French President Emmanuel Macron must fear that right-wing populists will be the strongest force in the European elections. This also has consequences for his view of Berlin and his relationship to the Federal Chancellor.
Emmanuel Macron is in his favorite role on Tuesday morning at the Invalides in Paris: as Commander-in-Chief of the French. The President honors two French elite soldiers killed in a hostage release in Burkina Faso, Africa, a few days ago. “A given life is not lost, the free peoples never blur the names of their heroes,” he says.
Except for a barely visible European flag, all symbols of the funeral ceremony for the soldiers are national symbols. That even Macron said this morning, in the middle of the European election campaign, no word about Europe, is no coincidence. He knows how much credibility he has lost on this terrain. He knows he has to score points with other topics in other ways.
Only two years ago, he led his French presidential campaign under European flags – and won. But then came the defeats in the reform dispute with Chancellor Angela Merkel. Then no one, let alone the Germans, wanted to adopt its reform proposals for Europe. Hardly a Frenchman has escaped. And all the more desperate Macron leads now European election campaign – with military ceremonies, if it must be.
Confidence disappears – in itself, as in the neighbors
“The gap between the US and Europe is growing, and more and more holes are being torn between Berlin and Paris,” says Dominique Moisi, consultant and co-founder of the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI), SPIEGEL. Moisi sees this as a “currently urgent problem the lack of confidence” in the governments in Paris and Berlin, “in itself and in others”.
Macron’s fear is that it’s no secret that in the European elections in ten days, he’ll only be second to the right-wing populists of Marine Le Pen. However, Merkel’s concerns are different: “She thinks of her legacy in Europe, which is increasingly threatened,” Moisi believes. Thus, both lack self-confidence, but also the confidence in the neighbors: In the European election campaign, they finally compete against each other, for different party camps, Macron for the Liberals, Merkel for the Conservatives. “The logical consequence is a return of the classic rivalry between Paris and Berlin,” says Moisi.
Instead of partners, they act like competitors
This happened at the recent EU special summit in Romania, where Macron launched a climate initiative with the heads of government of the Benelux and the Scandinavian countries, without taking Merkel with them. “It was a French revenge on the support that Berlin granted to the Hanseatic League in recent years,” analyzes Sébastian Maillard, director of the Paris Jacques Delors Institute for European Policy.
Maillard alludes to the often unspoken Berlin alliance with the Netherlands and the EU Baltic states, when it was all about social overspending in Europe. Germany and the others were united in their rejection of French demands. So now comes from Paris the rematch in the field of climate policy, where Macron knows how to bring the former allies of the Germans on his side. Paris and Berlin act as rivals in the dispute over power in the EU, and no longer as partners. “The Franco-German engine is not running anymore,” notes Maillard.
Nino Galetti sees this differently: “This impression is false, the German-French contradiction is over-interpreted,” he told the SPIEGEL. The representative of the CDU-affiliated Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in Paris believes that Merkel and Macron will soon gather after the European elections in order to strengthen the Council of Europe, which they occupy as Head of Government, to the European Parliament in the election of the future EU Commission President. “It’s an old conflict: should Parliament set the pace or continue to head the government?” Said Galetti.
But in Paris, many doubt whether the old cliques ever again play a comparably large role. “The tone is getting rougher, everyone has to prevail against the populists in their own country.” So far, Berlin and Paris have not hurt each other, this security threatens to disappear, “says Moisi. Macron’s appearance in the Invalides seemed to confirm that.