Macron’s Lofty Vision for Europe Gets Mixed Reviews

Ms. Merkel, re-elected but weakened, will have even more trouble than before to embrace most of Mr. Macron’s ideas, which inevitably will cost money.

Other European leaders, especially in the north and the east, look to a smaller and more diverse European Union as the best answer to rising nationalism and populism.

The man expected to be the next Czech prime minister, Andrej Babis, said tartly of Mr. Macron: “He should really concentrate on France.”

“All these proposals that we’ll have a minister of the eurozone and all of this further integration,” Mr. Babis said, should make Mr. Macron and the European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, “think of why Brexit happened.”

Even if the mood music is wrong, Mr. Macron is nonetheless pushing the traditional French concept of more Europe and more integration.

Only “a more integrated Europe” is the path to “real sovereignty,” he argued in the speech on Tuesday. “The only path that assures our future is the rebuilding of a Europe that is sovereign, united and democratic.”

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Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany needs to negotiate a new governing coalition, which will almost surely include a party opposed to key proposals put forth by Mr. Macron. Credit Tobias Schwarz/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Rather than retrenchment, he sees a revived European Union as the best antidote to increasing nationalism, populism and Euroskepticism from the far right and far left, as evidenced even in core bloc countries like France and Germany.

The European Union, he said, should embrace a joint budget for those using the euro — “a real budget at the heart of Europe,” he said; construct a shared military force; and harmonize taxes and the minimum wage to stay globally relevant.

He wants a common European asylum agency and border police, a eurozone finance minister responsible to the European Parliament and a European Monetary Fund to aid member states in budget trouble.

Mr. Macron wants to restore France to its traditional leadership role in Europe, as the intellectual driver of a partnership with larger, richer Germany.

But it is not the same Germany. Ms. Merkel needs to negotiate a new governing coalition, which could take until the end of the year and will almost surely include the liberal Free Democrats, who are very much opposed to key Macron ideas like a shared eurozone budget.

Ms. Merkel herself has said that idea of a eurozone finance minister is a good one. But the German idea is of a taskmaster who will make member states keep to budget discipline; the French idea is considerably more flexible, seeing a minister who spends rather than cuts.

After Mr. Macron’s speech, Ms. Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said that “the chancellor welcomes the French president delivering a speech with so much verve and passion for Europe,” but that it was “too early for a detailed appraisal of the proposals.”

A Free Democratic legislator and the vice president of the European Parliament, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, called the speech “brave” but emphasized that “there will be no eurozone budget” with the Free Democratic Party.

“If there were such a thing,” he added, “no country would ever be responsible for getting its own house in order.”

Europe has a different difficulty, he said: “Europe’s problem is not a lack of public money, but a lack of reforms.”

The Free Democratic leader, Christian Lindner, who is pushing to get his party the finance minister post in a new government — possibly Mr. Lambsdorff — has spoken of “red lines,” which include a eurozone budget that would allow transfers of funds to other countries.

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The leader of the Free Democratic Party, Christian Lindner, has spoken of “red lines,” which may include the kind of big eurozone budget Mr. Macron wants. Credit Stefanie Loos/Reuters

Mr. Macron said pointedly in his speech, “I don’t have red lines, I only have horizons,” calling on Germany and other bloc nations to join in working groups to brainstorm over his ideas.

“It was a visionary speech and it will accelerate the process” of European integration, said Guntram Wolff, director of the Bruegel think tank in Brussels. “It’s very significant in the sense that Europe and the euro are a deeply political project, and the French president has put his weight behind it.”

Many of the issues Mr. Macron highlighted, like defense and border security, are already in the mainstream, but he is pushing them forward, Mr. Wolff said.

“Will the Germans and other European countries take him up on that? On some points, yes,” but on others not immediately, especially on those that cost money or mean major institutional change, he said.

The member states of Central Europe, in particular, remain deeply skeptical of eurozone construction.

“The speech was echt Macronism — lofty in conception, bold in symbolism, vague on details,” said Arthur Goldhammer, an analyst of French politics.

Mr. Macron likes to “indicate a general direction and leave the actual destination sufficiently unclear,” so that any outcome can be declared as a victory, Mr. Goldhammer said. “But eventually,” he added, people will “begin to wonder if they’ve actually moved anywhere.”

Mr. Macron is feeling out allies in other bloc countries, including European legislators, on the model of the grass-roots En Marche movement that brought him to power.

Sabine Thillaye, a French legislator, told Politico that the idea was “to build a European En Marche.” She added: “We are trying to establish links with other European parliaments. It’s not yet clear who is going to be favorable to our initiatives.”

Mr. Macron, a young man at the start of a five-year term, clearly feels he has time. At a European digital summit meeting in Estonia, Mr. Macron will press his ideas during an informal Thursday night dinner with European leaders.

And some of his ideas have found favor on what might normally seem stony ground.

“It would certainly be helpful if there were greater scope for the E.U. to take action,” in areas like foreign policy, security and trade policy, said Clemens Fuest, president of Germany’s Institute for Economic Research, or IFO. “But I think that Macron’s plans for the eurozone are flawed.”

In the end, Mr. Fuest noted, “Macron’s speech constitutes an invitation to Germany to brainstorm over Europe’s future, and Germany should accept this invitation.”

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