Sat, May 13, 2017 - Page 9 News List

Macron victory gives Brussels confidence boost on EU’s future

With the existential threat posed by the French election averted, EU leaders see an opportunity to reset project Europe

By Jennifer Rankin  /  The Guardian

Illustration: Tania Chou

When French president-elect Emmanuel Macron walked across the courtyard of the Louvre on Sunday to the rousing finale of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, the EU anthem, few doubted it was a win not only for his untested political movement, but for the European project, too.

After the defeat of the far right in Austria and disappointment for the rabble-rousing populist Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, Brussels hailed the Macron victory as a sign of faith in European unity.

Martin Selmayr, chief of staff to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, said on Twitter: “Kick off: Felix Austria. Quarter final: Stable Netherlands: Semi final: La France en marche!”

Selmayr did not mention the final: German elections in September, where the prospects of a fourth term for German Chancellor Angela Merkel were bolstered on Sunday night, after her Christian Democratic Union unexpectedly trounced its junior coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party, in a regional contest.

However, the French presidential runoff was the most existential threat for the EU — a quasi referendum on the 60-year-old integration project.

Macron won on a platform that conventional wisdom insisted was doomed: He spoke of the “dream” of the EU, although was “not naive” when it came to its mistakes.

His defeated rival, Marine Le Pen, had called for a referendum on leaving the eurozone and predicted the EU would die.

No wonder EU leaders sound increasingly confident after her defeat, buoyed by the hope that the Euroskeptic wave has peaked.

“We have the possibility of launching a new phase,” Italian Undersecretary for European Affairs Sandro Gozi told the Guardian. “It won’t be always easy... On one side we have to make the best possible of Brexit negotiations, we have to limit the damage... On the other hand it is essential that there will be a parallel process of relaunch and of deepening European integration.”

Security would be the first issue to speed up integration among “willing and able” countries, Gozi said, making clear that anyone else can join in later.

“The community wouldn’t exist if in 1951 or 1957 the six European democracies decided to wait for the other European democracies,” he said.

Far from fracturing the EU, Brexit could be forcing it together, or at least, offers respite from poisonous arguments over refugees and eurozone discipline.

“For the first time in two centuries, the British are faced with a continental blockade as Napoleon attempted in 1806 — the difference is this time it works,” an editorial in Le Monde said.

Brigid Laffan is a professor at the European University Institute, a training ground for EU leaders.

“One of the paradoxes of [US President Donald] Trump and Brexit is that it has brought it home to individual Europeans ... that Europe has to be fought for and protected. People don’t like what they see and that temptation to support the extremes is being contained,” she said.

Laffan sees a “political window of opportunity of about five years” to reset the European project, depending on election results in Germany and Italy.

“There is an opportunity for EU member states to redefine the next phase,” she said. “Can they do so successfully? The EU by definition is going to disappoint, because it is always going to under-deliver given how hard it is to keep 27 countries together.”

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