Thursday 26 April 2018

Macron sworn in at Élysée ahead of tough talks on EU with Merkel

Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte on the steps of the Élysée Palace Photo: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte on the steps of the Élysée Palace Photo: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
Outgoing president François Hollande speaks to Emmanuel Macron after the handover at the Elysée Palace Photo: Reuters
Mr Macron lights the flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Photos: REUTERS/Alain Jocard/Pool
Mr Macron is driven in a military vehicle on the Champs Élysées

Henry Samuel

Emmanuel Macron will use his first international trip to try to persuade Germany today to build a common eurozone budget, a day after being sworn in as France's youngest ever president.

However, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has made it clear that the politician being hailed as the potential saviour of the European project can expect short shrift if he asks Germany to fork out national funds to boost a French recovery.

Mr Macron, a 39-year-old Europhile who used his inaugural address to promise to "reform and relaunch" Europe, was sworn in during a pomp-filled inauguration at the Elysée Palace, joined by his wife Brigitte, family and 300 dignitaries.

Promising to restore flagging French self-confidence, he repeatedly underlined the importance of France's place in the EU "which protects us and enables us to project our values in the world".

However, he added, the 28-member bloc needed to be "reformed and relaunched".

"We will need a more efficient, democratic and political Europe, because it is the instrument of our power and sovereignty," he insisted in a speech in the Elysée's gilded Salle des fetes.

The centrist ex-economy minister and investment banker swept to victory on May 7 promising to kick-start the European project while reforming France after beating the far-right's Marine Le Pen, who wanted to ditch the euro and threatened to pull France out of the EU.

Deeply relieved, as were her pro-EU colleagues, Mrs Merkel instantly hailed his election as "spectacular" and a "victory for a strong, united Europe".

However, beneath the smiles, experts have warned talks could swiftly founder between the leaders of Europe's two "motor" economies if Germany feels it is being asked to fork out for France, notably via eurozone bonds.

Last week Mrs Merkel appeared to rule this idea out, and also warned that Germany could do nothing about reducing its persistently high trade surplus, despite French calls to help Europe's economic laggards by importing more.

However, sources close to Mr Macron yesterday insisted he would not press for joint eurozone bonds to fund the budget. "Our priority is a budget for the eurozone, which can have different forms of financing," an unnamed source in the Macron camp told the 'Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung' newspaper.

Sylvie Goulard, a key Macron adviser who has been tipped to be prime minister, added: "One should not criticise Emmanuel Macron for points that are not in his programme. He never spoke out at any time in the election campaign for eurobonds.

"I consider eurobonds a possible tool to finance future EU joint projects on favourable terms. But they are not meant to shift a state's existing debts on to the shoulders of the other Europeans. This is rightly rejected in Germany," she added

Mrs Merkel is thought to be keen to forge a personal alliance with the new French president. But she is facing elections of her own in September which will limit what she can offer.

Mrs Merkel appeared on course for a historic fourth term as chancellor last night after winning a crushing victory in regional elections seen as a bellwether of the national mood.

In the last major vote before September's general election, Mrs Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) seized control of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most populous state and a traditional stronghold for her main rival, Martin Schulz.

According to initial exit polls, the CDU won 34.5pc of the vote in elections to the state parliament, compared to 30.5pc for Mr Schulz's Social Democrats (SPD) - a swing of more than 8 points. "I've taken a real hit tonight," a visibly shaken Mr Schulz said. "I'm not a magician. We have to think what my share of the responsibility was."

The state is home to 18m people, almost a quarter of Germany's population.

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