Emmanuel Macron’s vision for Europe is unbound by borders, traditions and cultures. But his push to remake the political order is on a collision course with reality.
The 40-year-old president, who won in France with a movement he built from scratch within a year, is planting the seeds of a post-party political system in the European Union. With the EU holding parliamentary elections next year, Macron sees an opportunity to usher in a new era of pan-European governance and disrupt the traditional political parties by tapping into his maverick roots.
Macron, often compared to the 19th century conqueror Napoleon Bonaparte, is making his move as Europe’s strongest nations consider paths of further integration and as a broad economic upswing lends them political momentum. But within the EU’s corridors of power, Macron’s strategy is viewed with skepticism, with no clear plan to navigate the continent’s sometimes hostile patchwork of political systems.
The head of his “European Task Force” — the tiny group in charge of the strategy within Macron’s Republic on the Move party — said in an interview that “the political restructuring has already started.”
“Political groups are divided over what they want for, and from, Europe,” Pieyre-Alexandre Anglade, 31, said while traveling on the train between Paris and Brussels, where he lives and does lobbying work. “Our ambition is to set foot in several countries and create a European-level ambition for a reforming agenda.”
New Political Front
Macron has launched a 15-month campaign to build support before elections to the European Parliament in May 2019. This is a key pillar to bolster his plan to make Europe work for voters and to stem the anti-EU populists who brought about Brexit and want the bloc to fail. While he isn’t seeking to recreate his party in other countries, Macron is searching for allies and supporters to spark a grassroots movement.
Macron will seek to discuss his idea of pan-European politics with other EU leaders at a summit on Friday in Brussels that will include German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose domestic party belongs to Europe’s Christian Democrats, and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, who caucuses with the Socialists. But neither the the Christian Democrats nor the Socialists — the two largest blocs in the EU parliament — are willing to change a system that underpins their power.
In fact, earlier this month the EU Parliament distanced itself from the Macron-backed idea of having the empty legislative seats created by Brexit set aside for pan-European lawmakers, a move that would have given his plan a significant boost.
Structural hurdles notwithstanding, Macron is the first French president to take an interest in the 28-nation Parliament and to seek to tap the potential of the EU machine for his own political purpose. And while his infantry is working the base he’s pushing leaders to join his drive for reform.
Macron is focusing his efforts on Poland, Greece, Ireland, Slovakia and the Baltics, according to Anglade, adding that Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium and Spain have been historic French allies, while it has been more difficult making inroads with Germany, the Netherlands and Hungary. Contacts are made either by Macron himself, Anglade or the party chief, Christophe Castaner.
In January, Macron convinced Spain, Greece, Portugal, Malta and Cyprus to sign on to his ideas on a closer European monetary union. These proposals track closely with a September speech he made at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he argued for closer European cooperation on defense, migration and climate change policies, with the aim of laying the foundations for more financial integration within the euro area.
Macron’s party is also planning a march across Europe with members of his political party, expected to last for more than a month. While traversing 25 member states — the Netherlands and Hungary may not participate — they’ll aim to raise awareness for his group and plant the seed of impending change.
But EU watchers and politicians take the Macron plan with a big pinch of salt and have expressed doubts as to whether he can accomplish his maverick trick in Europe like he did in France: To blow up the traditional party system and jump start an era of pan-European politics.
“He may want the end of the conservatives and other big political parties, but those parties have very, very strong alliances and they have no interest whatsoever to follow a Macron, however seducing his ideas may be,” said Florian Willermain, a political scientist at the Egmont Royal Institute for International Relations in Brussels. “On top of the Europe hurdles, he will have a country-by-country battle. I am eager to see what he’ll do.”