France’s newly minted Macron grooms deeper partnership with Germany
Paris — French President Emmanuel Macron demonstrated his commitment to making a deeper partnership with Berlin one of the pillars of his administration as he convened a cabinet stuffed with German speakers for the first time on Thursday.
At least six members of Macron’s inner circle speak German and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and finance chief Bruno Le Maire have practically a native grasp.
Even the president has some knowledge of the language, according to his aides, although he did use an earpiece at a joint press conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday. The French and German cabinets will hold a joint meeting in July.
After defeating the nationalist Marine Le Pen in this month’s election on a promise to make EU membership work for ordinary French voters, Macron’s relationship with the bloc’s largest economy will go a long way towards determining whether his five-year term proves a success.
And while his election was welcomed on the other side of the Rhine, many sectors of the German government and media are leery of the concessions Macron is expected to demand.
The 39-year-old has been clear he wants to remodel the French economy along the lines of Germany’s reforms in the early years of the century, but he has also said he wants to shift the eurozone away from austerity in the medium term.
"What’s interesting for Europe is how much Macron can revive the Franco-German relationship and make it the backbone of a new, successful European Union," Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform in London, said in an interview.
"The starting point for some Germans is, ‘Why should we pay the French to do what they should have done 10 years ago?’ But they also know they need some help running Europe."
Whoever emerges in charge of Germany after elections in September — Merkel remains the favourite — they should find plenty of common experience with their French counterparts.
Philippe, the 46-year-old French premier, graduated from high school in Bonn. Le Maire also speaks German fluently and Macron’s top foreign policy adviser, Philippe Etienne, is a diplomat who most recently served as ambassador in Berlin.
Richard Ferrand, the former Socialist who helped Macron create his party, spent two years at high school in Germany. Defence Minister Sylvie Goulard speaks German and speechwriter Sylvain Fort wrote his doctoral thesis on the German poet Friederich von Schiller.
It is Le Maire who probably matters most. The 48-year-old diplomat and writer takes on the critical job of wielding French power in the eurozone.
He is charged with keeping Macron’s promises of improving the governance within the currency club and closing the competitive gap that has left France behind its peers in terms of growth and employment.
Le Maire will fly to Berlin on Monday for private talks with his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schaeuble, before they travel to Brussels together to meet their eurozone colleagues later in the day.
"Nothing great happens in Europe without a solid Franco-German relationship," Le Maire said on Wednesday as he took office, mentioning he had already had a conversation with Schaeuble that day.
"France should control its public accounts and meet its commitments to its partners,"
he said in a nod to German
concerns about French budget discipline. "In a family, you
don’t spend more money than you earn."
Le Maire already has a relationship with the German finance minister after several meetings, including during the presidential campaign. He has had direct contact with Merkel and has repeatedly called for an increased tie between the two biggest eurozone nations.
"The choice of Le Maire is also probably aimed at sending a strong signal to Germany about Macron’s commitment to reform," said Antonio Barroso, a political risk analyst at Teneo Intelligence in London.
Le Maire was a Republican figure until his government nomination on Wednesday. He will run the ministry with another conservative by his side in Gerard Darmanin.
"I made a personal choice to help my country — perhaps more than my party did," Darmanin said on Wednesday. "The president’s road map is clear: to reassure our European partners."