Emmanuel Macron has emerged as de facto head of the EU – and that's bad news for Brexit Britain

If Macron gets to put into place what he really wants, Britain will be begging for Angela Merkel back

Andreas Whittam Smith
Tuesday 21 November 2017 17:44 GMT
Merkel or Macron? The British shouldn't rejoice about the departure of the former
Merkel or Macron? The British shouldn't rejoice about the departure of the former

Now that the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has run into political difficulties at home, the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, may become, unofficially, the leader of the European Union.

French presidents played that role from the foundation of the EU in 1957 until 1990 when the two Germanys, East and West, were reunited. Then, by reason of their combined economic strength, far in excess of France’s, the German Chancellor of the day became the go-to politician within the European Union. But if Merkel stumbles, Macron will assume that role.

What sort of person is Macron? He was born and brought up in Amiens, whose once important textile industry has all but disappeared and been replaced by car-parts factories. Macron was educated at a local Jesuit school until he was 16 years old. Then he went to the prestigious Henri IV in Paris.

But by then he had begun a friendship with Brigitte Auzière, a mother-of-three, who was a teacher in Amiens (she taught Emmanuel’s younger brother and sister). According to a very good biography of Macron (The French Exception by Adam Plowright), at the age of 17, at school in Paris, Emmanuel told Brigitte that “whatever happens to you, I’ll marry you”. She later said: “We spoke all the time ... and little by little, he overcame my resistance.” They duly married in 2007.

After school, Macron entered the elite École nationale d’administration (ENA), whose graduates, known as Enarques, form a network of influence spread across government, finance and business. After that, he went to work at the French Rothschild bank. At the same time he acted as an economic adviser to François Hollande. When Hollande won the presidential election in 2012 and entered the Élysée, he became Hollande’s deputy chief of staff – in other words, the President’s Sherpa. In August 2014, Macron was appointed Hollande’s economy minister. He was 36 years old.

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In October 2015, in the utmost secrecy, Macron began planning the launch of a new party, to be called En Marche!. It would be designed to harness the anti-establishment, anti-elite movement that had fuelled Trump’s election and Brexit and Nuits Debout, a French social movement.

It published a charter of values. Work should be something that liberates people. Liberty is at the same level of priority as equality. Be progressive rather than conservative, neither right not left. Kindness is a fundamental value. Macron commented: “We were all people who knew the political world and we all found that kindness and benevolence were completely absent. It had struck us all individually.”

The movement would be self-organising. According to Plowright’s book, members would sign up and then each of them was then contacted by a local coordinator and invited to attend a meeting. Some of these new members would then be selected to start new committees in their area, meaning a network of even smaller groups gradually spread across the country. Each local committee would be encouraged to organise autonomously.

The next step was to send the first members door-to-door across the country with a simple questionnaire, available via a smartphone app. It would ask people what they felt worked in France and what didn’t, what they were worried about, what gave them hope. Volunteers would fill in data about the location, age and profession of the respondents. The operation would be called La Grande Marche. Volunteers were sent into specifically targeted streets, villages or housing estates to survey a sample of people broadly representative of France as a whole, from far-right voters to communists.

The target was to pull in thousands of members – and it succeeded. En Marche! developed tremendous momentum and in May 2017 Macron became President, elected by a large majority and En Marche! candidates gained a majority of seats in the National Assembly.

What, then, do we know of Macron’s attitude to the European Union? I don’t think he has said that he wants to see a United States of Europe, but his recommendations would fit into that blueprint.

He wants a common European defence policy with close coordination between Britain, France and Germany. He believes that there should be a common border protection force to check illegal immigration, with a system for dividing up refugees between member states once they arrived.

He would like to see further harmonisation of social protection and business regulations. And most shocking of all to British thinking, Macron wants the eurozone itself (of which Britain is not a member) to have its own budget and borrowing capacity and to be able to transfer funds from rich members to weaker states.

In short, any British rejoicing that Merkel’s weakness and the consequent ascendancy of Macron might prove favourable to Britain is misplaced. My guess is that Macron would like to see us out, make a clean break and leave the EU as quickly as possible. We’re just a nuisance. So no Entente Cordiale, no “Vive la France”. Come back, Angela.

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