Don’t expect any favours from the new Europhile in the Élysée

Brexit has countless implications for Britain. One of them is that everything becomes about us. A case in point is the recent French election. The outcome marked a watershed moment in French and EU politics. But what we all want to know is, what does it mean for the UK.

So what does President Macron mean for the UK and, particularly, for Brexit? The clue here lies in his attitude towards the European Union. Of all the candidates in the French election, he was the most enthusiastically pro-EU. He has plans, among other things, to strengthen the euro, and to relaunch the famed Franco-German axis that has driven European integration for so long.

And it is this enthusiasm for integration, rather than any animosity to us, or, indeed, any desire to interfere in our election, that will shape his stance on Brexit. The presence of an ardent Europhile in the Élysée Palace will place France firmly among the ranks of member states for who believe non-membership must be less appealing than membership.

Without thinking in terms of punishing Britain, the logic for Macron is clear. To strengthen the union, and, not incidentally, his own position in the contest (he must expect with Marine Le Pen in 2022), leaving the EU must hurt the state that does it.

So do not expect any favours from the nice, young liberal man across the Channel. His priorities are clear, and we are not one of them. So, he will not push for a deal that gives us rights without the associated responsibilities. He will almost certainly not support a deal that lets certain bits of our economy — the car industry for instance — benefit from special treatment.

Over and above this, if he still means what he declared in front of his ecstatic fans in London last February, he also intends to profit from Brexit. He was unapologetic in declaring that he will use the presidency to make France a more attractive place for those bankers and academics (among others) who currently live in the UK. Roll on my French tax break.

If we can drag our attention away from our short-term Brexit fixation, Macron will also affect us in the medium term, though obviously the impact here will be harder to predict. He has laid out an (admittedly vague) centrist, liberal political philosophy at variance with the ideology of our own government. His approach to the EU is obviously one example, but so too is his welcoming approach to immigrants and his social democratic leanings.

Might a successful President Macron help resurrect European social democracy? Might he serve as a beacon for others on in the political centre ground? It is certainly possible. And if he does, his example might serve to inspire some meaningful opposition to Theresa May.

That being said, the problems that France’s new president faces are significant. For one thing, he must secure the support of the National Assembly in order to be able to govern effectively. This itself will be no easy task. And then he must do what no president in recent times has managed: reform an economy that is stuttering and that leaves alarming numbers of people, and particularly young people, unemployed.

Should he fail, then there will be problems ahead. Marine Le Pen has her own problems to think about – not least whether she can hold the different warring factions of what used to be her party together.

Should she manage this, however, and should the Macron presidency be marked by an ability to deal with the manifold problems confronting the country, this archetypical Davos man will prove a juicy target come the next election in 2022.

The stakes, then, are high. Not just when it comes to Brexit, where France’s new leader will be of no help to Theresa May, but also in terms of the future of French and European politics. Because, tearing our eyes away from our Brexit induced self-obsession, this is where the real effects of President Macron will be felt.

Not in shaping the deal that sees us leave the European club. But in helping to shape the future of European politics. This is something we should probably be more interested in than we currently are.

Anand Menon is director The UK in a Changing Europe and professor of European politics and foreign affairs King’s College London. This piece originally featured in The Times Red Box.

The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the UK in a Changing Europe initiative.

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  • Didier Cosse

    Interesting analysis. However, I’d like more explanation from Professor Anand Menon as I am astonished by the postulate from which the rest of the article follows: why the UK shall expect “favours” from Macron or from any of the 27 other EU member States? Why the UK should expect any “favors” from EU member States? 1. Brexit has severely damaged the image and credibility of the EU = 28 Member States which have enjoyed the longest period of peace and development since the Second World War. 2. The Brexit negotiations impose on the other 27 Member States a lot of energy and time when the EU more pressing challenges to address: the fight against salafist terrorism, climate change, how best to mitigate migratory flows from the Middle East or Africa, how to get more united towards Erdogan, Putin or Trump, who all do or try their best to divide or destroy the EU? Frankly, I urge my British friends ask themselves this very simple question: “In the name of what some EU member states should give favors to the British who have decided, on their own, to leave the EU “? In the name of what principle or reason should the French, Germans, Austrians peoples, should the Danes, the Poles or the Slovenes, give “favors” during a negotiating process that is imposed on 27 other countries.

    Albeit all UK’s EU partners respected the wish and decision of the British people to leave the Union, there is a strange narrative in the UK that the UK would suffer the situation of a “victim”. This is astonishing from the Continental European point of view, but this is even more worrying to hear that although the June 2016 vote also entailed negative consequences for the 27 remaining MS who have to address some negative consequences of a decision taken by Britain, but for which they have not been requested to give their opinion to Britain. However, the debate about the situation and rights of EU citizens in the UK, and in Spain, Portugal, Italy, France or Germany, the same debate about the situation and rights of EK citizens living in these EU countries is one of the most concrete example of the consequences of the decision of one single country to the 27 others who had not a say in the UK decision. So, for what reasons, today, the French or the Poles should pay both 1) for the moral and political damages of the June 2016 vote, and 2) in addition, give “favors” to one country discussing the conditions of its exit?

    Please dear British friends, just ask yourself the real question: If you are very unhappy to have been deceived by Farage and the UKIP, who systematically lied to you, constantly presented the overly negative aspects of being a member of the EU and if, as it is more and more obvious, you also realize how much the Tories and Labor have never been willing to explain the added value of being part of the EU, It is certainly not the fault of your neighbors! If MM. Farage and Johnson, but also Mrs May or Mr Corbyn today, made you believe that it was possible to make cherry-picking among the four fundamental freedoms of the single market, it is certainly not because, suddenly, in 2016, the 27 would have changed the rules of the functioning of the EU to “punish Great Britain because it decided to leave the EU”. All EU member States have been applying the same Rules regarding the Four Freedom since 1985, 32 years ago, and the UK who has been an EU MS for 46 years cannot say today that it ignored rules it’s been enjoying for the last 32 years as some Tory politicians dare to say. I was totally shocked when hearing that remark by Theresa May on BBC last night! Many politicians have deceived the British and continue to be misleading to the British. This makes me sad because the British people deserve far much better. But these politicians also make me angry because they show no respect at all for the other 450 million Europeans who have been applying the same rules as GB, for the last 32 years, no more, and no less.

    To come back to the starting postulate of this article, sorry to be blunt professor Anan Denon, but it seems to me as a postulate being part of a surrealistic narrative where the UK would have been the victim of its EU partners and, consequently, some “favors” should be given to it in compensation. If you ask French people about this statement, 90% of them will state the complete opposite and say that the UK has been enjoying for 46 years the best situation possible, receiving all the advantages of being an EU MS while being exempted from fulfilling all the responsibilities expected from a member, with op-outs for currency, defense, Schengen, etc. an the postulate of the French is: “enough with being one step in, and one step out”…

    To conclude, there is no mention of the word “favour” in the provisions of Art. 50 of the TFEU. The Brexit negotiations will focus on the exit key issues, the situation and rights of EU/UK citizens in the UK/EU countries; the question of accounting and finally the negotiation of a UK-EU FTA. If MM Farage and Johnson have never explained that the Single Market comprised 4 liberty which formed an indictable block, and that this block was a “take it or leave it”one, it’s not the responsibility or your EU partners. If it has never been made clear that cherry-picking among these Four liberty was not legally possible nor economically acceptable, contrary to what Mrs May or Mr Corbyn continue to suggest, this is terribly sad because this is not only inaccurate, but it’s badly preparing the ground for good negotiations where the EU is expecting the British PM to come to Brussels and negotiate in good faith.

    Finally, putting the responsibility and blame for a possible failure of the discussions on “some Europeans willing to punish Britain”, or on “these non-elected Brussels bureaucrats”, is childish but above all, terribly unworthy of the British political class. The only ones who are responsible for Brexit’s intrusive and damaging situation are the populist and nationalist UKIP party and clown Farage, who immediately disappeared from the political scene after pushing the United Kingdom from the cliffs of Dover.

    Professor Anan Menond, I suggest that you hold MM. Farage and Johnson accountable of the deplorable situation in which they have put Britain and that you ask the Tories to request some “favours” to the beloved friends of Farage; Donald Trump who rejoiced complacently about Brexit, hoping for a rapid Hollandexit, a catastrophic Grexit and a apocalyptic Frexit that Farage had predicted to him; but which never happened. And to ask his Russian friend Putin to also give “favours” to Britain, as Putin also vocally rejoiced at the stab in the back carried by the UKIP against UK’s European friends and allies. I hope that the British people will stop believing, after all this mess, that it should be for Macron or Merkel or Rajoy or Belgian Michel or else, to give some “favors” to Britain. This postulate is really indecent and disrespectful to your EU partners.

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