By Iran Review
As various elections were held across Europe in past months, the continent was swept with a wave of hope and fear. However, after the UK’s decision to exit the European Union, this wave has been more characterized by fear about the future outlook of the European Union (EU) rather than hope. In the meantime, presidential election in France drew more attention from policymakers and analysts due to domestic, regional and international reasons. Increased support for nationalistic slogans as well as a stronger anti-capitalism stance in the country, were among domestic reasons behind that support. At the regional level, most concerns were related to security, economic and political conditions of the EU following Britain’s divorce as well as increasing clout of Russia in Eastern Europe. On international level, US President Donald Trump’s approach to the EU, especially to future security and economic cooperation with the bloc, has drawn attention from researchers.
In view of the above facts, experts on Europe have been asked to answer the following two questions in order to do away with ambiguities related to the impact of the election in France on the future outlook of the EU and the country’s relations with Germany.
1. Which part of economic, political, defense and other issues constituted the most important concern that Germany had about elections in France?
2. What impact will the French election result and victory of Emmanuel Macron have on the future relations between France and Germany, and basically on the future outlook of the European Union?
Mohammad Hossein Taheri, resident expert at Iran-Eurica Institute
Answer to Q1: Political aspects are more important to Germany
During French presidential election campaigns, possible election of Marine Le Pen was the most important concern for Germany as the main supporter of a powerful Europe. If it had happened, realization of Le Pen’s promises about holding a referendum on France leaving the European Union would have led to Frexit and practically caused one of the main driving forces behind the EU to fall into disorder, leaving Germany alone under difficult conditions to struggle for the survival of the bloc.
Another concern that Germany had about election of Le Pen was that it would be a test of rightist and populist tendencies in the country. Her election could have accelerated the spread of radical right across the EU countries. Such development could have also affected the German society and pushed it toward bipolarization. It would have mentally strengthened rightwing German parties, including the radical right party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), on the one hand, while on the other hand, would have stirred fears among German people and the leading parties, causing them to show confrontational reactions. The aforesaid concerns were not special to Germany’s Christian Social Union (CSU) or the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and were common among most important parties in Germany. Of course, Le Pen’s anti-EU viewpoints were mostly about economic issues, but their political aspect was source of more serious concern for German politicians.
From Germany’s viewpoint, Emmanuel Macron was the best option in the French presidential election and Le Pen was the worst. During the French election, German politicians did not hide their preference for the election of Macron. Germany’s Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble clearly noted that the German government supported Macron. He had noted that policies adopted by the next French president should not be at odds with policies adopted by EU institutions, so that, following up on EU’s future plans and goals would be facilitated. Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel had clearly supported Macron.
Answer to Q2: Macron’s election put an end to domino-like election of Eurosceptic parties
Election of Emmanuel Macron provides better conditions for the strengthening of the European Union in the future. He wants an independent budget for Europe, a common European ministry of economic affairs and finance as well as an independent parliament for the eurozone countries. Of course, Macron is said to have been critical of Germany’s economic policies, but has drawn support from German officials due to common grounds that he has with them. During a speech at the Humboldt University of Berlin in January 2017, Macron said he supported the European Union and wanted Germany to be in it. When it comes to the EU policies and the issue of immigrants, Macron is on the same line as Germany and supports the Schengen Area and euro as single currency, while seemingly having similar views on Russia, Syria and free trade as Germany. The most important impact that Macron’s election will have on the future outlook of the European Union is that he put an end to domino-like election of anti-EU parties across the continent. Now, France can be expected to work with Germany to further boost the power of the European Union.
Germany was the first destination of Macron’s foreign visits, which started on Monday, May 15. Before the visit, Merkel had noted that during his election campaign, Macron strongly defended the unity of Europe. She added, “We will do our best not only to help France, but also to move toward unity of Europe along with France.” During the visit, the two sides discussed economic issues and plans of interest to both France and Germany.
It must be noted that in addition to Le Pen, election of some other candidates could have led to tension in Germany’s relations with France. For example, if François Fillon had been elected, his economic policies would be largely in line with those of Angela Merkel, but the two countries could have held different views with regard to other issues, including how to deal with Russia and Turkey, immigrants, and the future of the European Union.
German politicians, therefore, have a positive view of Macron’s election and see a promising perspective both for bilateral relations and European policies. As a result, it seems that election of Macron can have a positive impact on bilateral relations between France and Germany and the two countries are not expected to face major challenges with regard to the European Union.
Senior expert on Europe
Answer to Q1: Germany is concerned about economic conditions of France.
The most important concern that Germany has is about economic conditions of France, especially after Britain’s exit from the EU. Since the 1970s, France has not have a balanced state budget as a result of which the country has been regularly grappling with budget deficit. This means that Paris has not been able to comply with the most important mechanism adopted to bring stability to the eurozone, which is preventing budget deficit from surpassing three percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). In 2016, France’s general spending amounted to 56.2 percent of its gross domestic product, which has been the highest figure among member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), while the corresponding figure for Germany has been 44.3 percent of the GDP. In order to comply with the rule that says budget deficit should not exceed three percent of the GDP, Macron must save more than 60 billion euros in the next five years, which seems quite difficult if not impossible.
Market reforms and reducing unemployment are other major economic challenges facing Macron and he does not seem to have any better plans for tackling these challenges compared to his predecessor, François Hollande. Under these conditions, one can claim that Berlin’s most important concern about the French election and Macron’s coming to office is about economic policies of the country and the role that Paris can play in improving conditions in the eurozone and, subsequently, paving the way for economic convergence across Europe. Following the economy, political and defense issues related to the European Union, including the reaction to Britain’s exit from the EU, countering Russia’s geopolitical measures in Eastern Europe and finding solutions to such issues as the immigration wave will be on the two countries’ agenda.
Answer to Q2: Strengthen the European’s integration pillar
France, along with the United States, is among the closest allies of Germany. In fact, European convergence has been one of the main pillars of Germany’s foreign policy, along with trans-Atlantic relations, looking to the east, as well as preserving Western values and international order through higher responsibility discourse. These goals can be achieved through the France-Germany axis. Due to the rising power of Germany, especially because of its economic might, in recent years, on the one hand, and weakening of France, mostly due to its economic and other domestic problems, on the other hand, the balance in their relations seems to have been disturbed in favor of Germany.
It is of critical importance that the new French president would be able to restore balance to the two countries’ relations and revitalize the European convergence drive. The trans-Atlantic pillar of Germany’s foreign policy had been already shaken after election of new US President Donald Trump and London’s exist from the bloc, which has been followed by disturbance in the West’s liberal order. Now, another pillar of the country’s foreign policy is being threatened and, therefore, it was very important who would be elected in France and how he or she would help the European convergence as one of two major links connecting Germany to the West. Therefore, is can be said that the result of France’s presidential election in 2017 and Macron’s victory in addition to the forthcoming elections in Germany will greatly determine the future outlook of relations between Paris and Berlin and, to a large and very serious extent, the future of the entire Europe and the West. After election of Macron in France and increased possibility of Merkel winning a third term in office through the forthcoming elections in Germany, concerns in this regard seem to have been dispelled to a large extent.
Ali Esmaeili Ardakani
Answer to Q1: Germany formulates large-scale European policies in view of domestic conditions in France
German officials were mostly concerned about the French election due to domestic doubts that existed among the country’s policymakers and elites about pursuing EU’s policies. In the meantime, cooperation in promoting the European Union around the pivot of politics and security was the most important concern that German officials had about the French election. It seems that as the main axis of EU’s identity, in addition to closely monitoring domestic developments in France, Germany must pay attention to one issue: the public opinion and public demands in France.
German officials must closely monitor domestic developments and the main demand of the French public opinion, because this issue can revive France and encourage it to play its past role after the country was actually frozen due to populist and nationalist policies during elections.
A review of the general atmosphere governing media, parties and voters that accounted for 40 percent of those who opposed Macron’s policies, during the French election, will show that France cannot follow a purely anti-nationalist policy and pursue EU’s goals with the past enthusiasm. If German officials pay attention to this atmosphere when formulating the European Union’s large-scale policies, they may be able to painstakingly review those policies, which France, as a strategic partner within the EU, is expected to accept.
On the other hand, helping the new French president make plans to boost investment in the country with the goal of creating new jobs and also revisiting immigration and border policies can be of great assistance to Paris. This assistance will reduce the clout of populist media in the country and offer a solution to the gap that exists between public and social expense, on the one hand, and collective defense expenses, on the other hand, considering that this gap was the main ground used for maneuvering by opponents of Macron during the election.
Answer to Q2: The European Union must review its security and defense policies
Following election of Macron and after a long period in which the European Union had to grapple with such problems as immigration, economic crisis, spread of terrorism, and the Brexit, at the present time, past doubts and ambiguities surrounding the bloc’s future policy and identity have been relatively dispelled. The emphasis put by Macron on the collective spirit of the bloc was evidence to this issue.
Macron has continuously stressed the need to boost EU’s defense capability in cooperation with Germany. Efforts made to bolster NATO while pursuing policies that transcend the bloc’s limits, giving priority to reducing tensions with Russia, formulating a clear strategy to cooperate with China, and serious involvement in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict and problems in the Persian Gulf are all signs of continued cooperation between Germany and France. Determining these priorities can get Europe back to its heyday, because Germany will also agree to these priorities.
Meanwhile, since trans-Atlantic ally of the European Union, that is, the United States, lacks a clear strategy at the present time, the European Union must review its defense and security policies more diligently. The more serious is this review, the higher is the possibility that the China-Russia axis will be happy about it.
Interviewer: Dalileh Rahimi Ashtiani. M.A student of University of Tehran