A staunch European, a partner of Germany and an admirer of Chancellor Angela Merkel will move into the Élysée Palace this month. Independent candidate Emmanuel Macron has defeated far-right populist Marine Le Pen in a landslide victory in France’s presidential election, securing 66.1 percent of the vote in the run-off election on Sunday.
In Berlin, Macron’s clear victory raises hopes that Germany and France can rekindle their post-war partnership, known as the engine of Europe, which has stalled in recent years as support for outgoing French President François Hollande collapsed, leaving him unable to lead decisively in Europe.
A former economics minister under President Hollande, Mr. Macron has vowed to implement labor market reforms and make modest spending cuts in a bid to jump-start France’s struggling economy, which suffers from an unemployment rate of 10 percent and anemic growth of 1.1 percent.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel hailed Macron’s victory and praised the 39-year-old president, the youngest in the Fifth Republic’s history, as an “excellent French politician.” But Gabriel, who befriended Macron when he served as Germany’s economics minister, expressed deep concern that some 35 percent of French voters backed Ms. Le Pen’s National Front.
“Millions in France voted for a populist, radical far-right party,” Gabriel told public broadcaster ARD. “We have bought time, but we have to support Macron and his policies. Otherwise, if he fails, the threat of Le Pen looms even larger and with it the breakup of Europe.”
As the French economy has stalled, Berlin’s influence in Europe has only grown, creating an imbalance in a partnership that has kept the continent on an even keel for six decades. In Germany, exports are booming, unemployment is at record lows and the budget is running a surplus.
Bolstered by a comparatively strong position at home, Chancellor Angela Merkel has emerged as the most influential leader in the European Union, particularly in the wake of Britain’s decision to leave the bloc.
Some leaders and countries might welcome such influence, but multilateralism and European integration are post-war Germany’s raison d’etre, and it sees France as its indispensable European partner.
German officials have welcomed Macron’s proposed domestic reforms, which look familiar. Former Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schröder implemented similar changes over a decade ago in Germany, which many analysts credited with the country’s current economic success.
Gabriel welcomed Macron’s calls for a common budget, finance minister and parliament for the euro-zone member states, policies that divide the current coalition government in Berlin. The foreign minister pointed the finger at Merkel’s Christian Democrats and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble for dragging their feet on such proposals.
“Macron and I developed these ideas together because we were both economics ministers,” Gabriel said. “He wants to reform France, but he needs time to reduce the French budget deficit. What we always demand, that France implement austerity at the same time, damages investments and produces more unemployment.”
Excerpted from Handelsblatt Global
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