New German chancellor will take time to bed in and make their presence felt at EU level, observers say
“Macron is top dog,” said Andrew Duff, a former UK MEP and president of the Spinelli Group of European federalists. “Whoever succeeds Merkel will take time to get going.”
EU policymaking is driven by the French-German “engine”. Every great leap forward in EU integration has come with the backing of Paris and Berlin working in tandem.
For most of her 16 years in office, Angela Merkel, the longest-serving EU leader of the largest EU country, has been the dominant partner in the alliance and the European Council.
Now all eyes will turn to the mercurial Mr Macron, a leader who is far more fond of disruption than the cautious Ms Merkel. He wants eurozone reform, moves to bolster pan-EU democracy and steps forward on common foreign policy and defence, which could form the building blocks of a European army.
“He is a true successor of Valery Giscard d’Estaing. He wants French leadership in a European federal union. And unlike Giscard he looks set to get his second term,” said Mr Duff.
Giscard d’Estaing, a former French president who died last year, was influential in the drafting of the doomed Constitution for Europe. It was rejected by French and Irish voters, but still informed significant parts of the later Lisbon Treaty, which created the modern EU.
Shortly after Mr Macron’s election in 2017, he delivered his Sorbonne speech on a “sovereign, united and democratic Europe”. Progress on those ideas was slower than Mr Macron would have liked. Common EU defence research projects were agreed but have been beset by difficulties, while his eurozone reforms were ignored by the German Chancellor.
There were also Franco-German tensions over Brexit, with Mr Macron advocating a tougher line rather than the negotiations favoured by Ms Merkel, who was determined to avoid a no-deal Brexit.
But Mr Macron scored a notable victory in convincing Ms Merkel to back the EU’s mammoth coronavirus economic stimulus package, which borrows money against the EU Budget, and bust a long-standing German taboo against common debt.
He will hope to use the billions of euros in EU funds to build support for his plan for “a Europe that protects”.
He has an ally in Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, who he suggested for the post in 2019 in talks with Ms Merkel.
Brussels sources detected the hand of Paris in her recent State of the Union speech in which she urged member states to build an EU Defence Union.
Mr Macron secured Joe Biden’s tacit support for a bolstered EU defence in crisis talks held after the Aukus row.
He has held talks with the two main candidates to replace Ms Merkel, Armin Laschet and Olaf Scholz.
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