Macron’s European Renaissance has found a partner: the Ecolòs, who add a more far-sighted approach to En Marche’s muscular pro-Europeanism
- Friday, 12 July 2019
The European elections in France marked a reversal compared to the 2017 presidential elections, but Emmanuel Macron has done all he can to ensure that his defeat went unnoticed, with some success. Marine Le Pen's party, which now goes by the name of Rassemblement National or National Grouping, beat Macron's team, la République en Marche, by a whisker, the gap a mere 0.9%. Small but significant, if one considers that this is the country that is supposed to head the so called "European Renaissance", which is Macron's baby in the first place. Despite the initial, bombastic announcements by Le Pen – the president should resign! – the Rassemblement hasn't secured any great advantage from its victory: although this and other parties, with the League in Italy in the forefront, have been very successful in their own countries, on a European level they don't and won't have much a of a chance of making a difference. The sovereigntist alliance is still in its infancy, but even if it manages to create a unity that doesn't look to be on the cards – nationalism hasn't yet come up with a supranational version, least of all in Europe – it will still be a minority within the EuroParliament which is for the most part pro-European.
The attempt to "change the rules of Europe", that the sovereigntists announced during the electoral campaign and since, will, in a best case scenario (for them, that is), just hinder the work of the European members of parliament: an annoyance rather than a political strategy. Without taking into consideration the extremely quarrelsome nature of the various parties for the same reason: the sum of nationalisms of a different kind does not produce a shared form of nationalism. Thus Italy's economic weakness, for example, doesn't sit well with Salvini's allies in Germany, the Alternative für Deutschland party which since its inception has been calling for total austerity measures, particularly against those spendthrift Mediterranean folk.
However, the real rule changer here is Emmanuel Macron, even the very basic rule that if you lose an election you should reconsider your options. The French president has taken the defeat as a minor hitch, transformed it into a draw and moved on to pursue his European Renaissance. In France, Macronism has effectively redrawn the country's entire party structure: the Gaullist right wing Républicains got no more than 10%; the left managed to top the cut off mark by just one percentage point; the radical left collapsed, and its leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon has withdrawn into silence for many a day which some believe foreshadows his retirement. The only force that has made inroads, in perfect symmetry with many other parts of Europe, are the Greens, who achieved a fairly remarkable 13% and immediately started to engage in conversations with Macron's party, which on the environmental issues dear to the Ecolò is the greenest of all French parties.
The president's political project was exactly this: recreate a two party system that could face off on clear issues, such as Europeanism, liberalism, globalisation, openness. And this is exactly what's going on, and in fact the most entertaining spectacle to date in France is watching people change sides: the traditional political groupings have become too small and uncomfortable, and many are looking for pastures new, but these transitions are not always that simple. The comings and goings are lively and often amusing, if it weren't that besides the personal – and often not very edifying tales – what is at stake here is a new political landscape that could have repercussions even beyond French borders. For some time now in Europe there's been talk of getting rid of the traditional party system and the European elections have shown that the process is underway, even if this transformation is not matching expectations: it was thought that the sovereigntists would be the motors of change, and instead we discover that, given the Macron and the Greens experiments, the impulse is multi-coloured and not just black.
Macron's ambition is to export this model into Europe, redrawing affiliations within the EuroParliament and thus the balance of power in Brussels. The first attempt concerns his own affiliation with the liberals of Alde, which changed its name for the EU elections – Renaissance – and then did so again – the final version being: "Renew Europe" – while it attempts to draw the pro-European parties that haven't yet chosen where they stand or are uncertain whether they're still comfortable where they are, into their fold,. This process is much more complex and tricky than what took place in France with En March, partly because European groups are much harder to break down, and also because Paris' initiative is viewed with a degree of suspicion. The pro-Europeans like to be solid, they work towards lasting parliamentary alliances, but they don't want a Europe in the image of Macron.
But the French president wants to do everything his way: he wants a charismatic leadership for Europe, so the continent will can pull its weight at a global level, and is prepared, perhaps with no little glee, to put paid to the wheeling and dealing by conservatives and socialists to share the various European posts. Many believe that in this way Macron is putting some distance between him and his long-standing ally, Germany: the French-German axis seems on the point of collapsing once more. There are plenty of critical aspects and they will only increase, partly and especially because Berlin is engaged in a very complex transition: the Chancellor Angela Merkel will step down and her heir apparent, Annagret Kramp-Karrenbauer, isn't coming across as convincing as first thought (though it has to be said that anyone lingering in Merkel's shadow tends to flag) and she has stood up to Macron on various issues. But the polarity between Paris and Berlin has reversed for natural reasons – Macron has the gumption of someone starting afresh, Merkel the caution of twilight, and is cautious by nature – and partly because the most ambitious reforms, right now, have been outlined by the French president. Moreover the French, who effectively followed Germany's lead during the financial shock of 2010, means to regain their independence: it's not a conflict in the making, it's just a redrawing of lines, but clearly this doesn't go down too well with the Germans (and there's also a tendency in Germany to exaggerate the French-German rivalry, but it is just that: an exaggeration). With his decisionist stance, Macron has already obtained results: the discussions of the Eurozone budget, the directive on copyright and on seconded workers; regulations protecting strategic investments, a harder line against China and a joint defence project, investment in education and European universities.
Much more needs to be done and as so often happens in Europe, one of the most important tests is the appointment of the top ranking European Union figures: everyone's busy counting heads, in our parts. But Macron's project is broader and more radical: he wants to change the European approach, even if it means a series of brutal clashes which we are no longer used to: compromise for the French president is always a losers game. So countermeasures will certainly be needed to avoid Macron's unitarian bid turning into the exact opposite, unproductive guerrilla warfare. Merkel is the ideal counterweight but more have to be found. However, the French president's approach is the big news of this next legislation: he calls it "productive consensus", but he seems to come ready for battle, preparing a more muscular Europe the likes of which we are not accustomed to.
This article is also published in the July/August issue of eastwest.