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Merkel’s Tough Message to Macron

Walter Russell Mead

So much for a post-election honeymoon. Angela Merkel is already sending a tough message to Emmanuel Macron after his presidential victory: thank you for beating Le Pen, but no, you can’t have any money. Financial Times:

Angela Merkel has dismissed the idea of helping Emmanuel Macron by relaxing eurozone spending rules, quickly putting the onus on France’s next president to implement economic reforms after his election win.

A day after Mr Macron scored a decisive victory in France’s presidential election, the German chancellor, the most powerful national leader in Europe, said she wanted to help France but said: “German support cannot replace French policymaking.”

The chancellor pledged to help France fight unemployment and improve its economy, and to co-operate closely with the youthful president-elect. “Emmanuel Macron carries the hopes of millions of French people and also of very many people in Germany and in the whole of Europe,” she said.

But Ms Merkel said: “I don’t see why — as a priority — we should change our policy.”

Merkel’s Christian Democrats show no signs of relenting on their tough line on eurozone reforms—certainly not before the German elections in September, and maybe not even then. This is a reality in German politics: the CDU/CSU believes that tough Euro policies are popular with the voters. And they seem to be right.

That’s going to make life harder for Macron than it need be: he will have to win the legislative elections without any evidence that he can soften German positions on the austerity issues that matter so much to French voters. And he will clearly face an uphill climb in altering German thinking on other orthodoxies: both Merkel and her challenger Martin Schulz have already rebuffed Macron’s criticism of the German trade surplus, which he has justifiably identified as a threat to the Eurozone.

In the best case scenario, Macron and the Germans will quietly work out a set of reforms that are mild enough for the French to accept but that look tough enough to the Germans that public opinion is prepared to back some concessions on deficits and economic policy. Dressed up as the kind of “Grand Compromise” between France and Germany that in the past propelled much of the EU’s progress, such a deal just might offer the EU the chance for a fresh start.

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