French presidential elections gain the European stage
President Macron has set out his European strategy that seems to operate on two levels: the electoral and the geopolitical.
A few days ago, President Macron opened the EU six-month presidency at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. In his speech, he called for the inclusion of the right to abortion and environmental protection in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The president also stressed the need for a new security system in Europe to counter the Russian threat. Nevertheless, he called for dialogue with Russia.
In response to Macron’s speech, numerous French politicians spoke out, some on behalf of the EP political group. Among the speakers was Yannick Jadot, MEP and Green Party candidate in the presidential election. He accused the French president of not doing enough to combat the climate crisis.
Regardless of the political banter, President Macron has set out his European strategy. His approach seems to operate on two overlapping levels: the electoral and the geopolitical.
Although he has not yet declared whether he will run again, the French president will enjoy European and international attention. A status that will allow him to speak about Europe from a position of strength.
In France, as in 2017, the issue of Europe still divides the political parties. But there are important differences between today and 2017. Back then, there were pro-Europe candidates and anti-Europe candidates. Some were in favor of France leaving the European Union. Today, the split is more nuanced. The parties that were anti-Europe are now calling for deep reforms. No one seems open to the country leaving the Union.
With his speech, Macron presented himself as the most pro-European candidate. An aspect that could be important to convince some center-left voters. The demand to include the right to abortion and the protection of the environment in the Charter of Fundamental Rights should also be understood in this sense. This could prove useful in terms of electoral tactics.
Moreover, the French president is thus forcing his opponents into difficult balances. This is the case with Valerie Pécresse, the center-right candidate. Her traditional pro-European stance and her recent nationalist statements against the European flag have put her in a hard position. But, she seems to have no alternative. Pécresse is trying to win back the center-right voters from Macron and preventing some center-right voters to support the far right.
At the level of European politics and France’s geopolitical position, Macron has the opportunity to influence the future of the EU. With the departure of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the French president does not just want more weight in the EU. He wants to lead it.
Since the beginning of his presidency, Macron has seen the balance of power between France and Germany as a key goal. It is a similar approach to his predecessors. But unlike in the past, President Macron has sought to intervene in the country’s internal weaknesses. In his view, these have hurt France’s political weight, to Germany’s advantage. This is the reason why France must put in place the reforms to fix its internal fractures and adapt to globalization. Without reforms, the balance with Germany will deteriorate. Only through its own economic and social reforms, France will be able to influence the EU. And it could exert influence in those policy areas that diverge the most from Germany: the euro and defense.
Although internal reforms have stalled due to Covid-19, Macron will use the six-month presidency to refocus the Union on the issues that matter to France’s election and geopolitical status. When the president talks about European sovereignty and the common identity to protect, he is not just trying to win over Europe’s most reluctant partners. He is also trying to convince French voters that defending national sovereignty goes hand in hand with defending “European sovereignty.”
From immigration to economic policy, from the fight against climate change to monetary policy, Macron thinks that France’s success depends on Europe; and on France’s ability to steer the process of European integration toward “French” style policies.