After the presidential and parliamentary victories of Emmanuel Macron and his party earlier this year, many in Europe expect that the EU will rise from the self-defeating lethargy of slow demise. Expectations are high among the EU establishment who have welcomed this as an opportunity to finally press ahead with more integration – expectations that have been reinforced by Brexit and the belief that the EU can finally uninterruptedly embark on initiatives previously frustrated by the government in London. Yet Macron’s presidency will not be defined by the EU alone. Instead it will be dominated by national issues such as the country’s abysmal economic performance. The EU agenda will not be pursued in parallel to the domestic one as two equals – at best the former will be entirely subjugated to the latter and at worst France will pursue its own (economic) interests to the detriment of the EU and the Single Market.
Macron’s rise to power has propelled him into the position of the EU’s poster child. The EU’s very own Barrack Obama who ran on the message of hope and whose potential failure can lead to the ultimate abandonment of the political system in France as we know it. While the domestic economic problems cannot be overemphasised – high unemployment, lacklustre economic growth, oversized and ineffective public sector and indebtedness – Macron’s mandate is built on shaky grounds. Of those who voted for him many were driven not so much by their passion for Macron himself as by their distrust for Le Pen or the establishment. For them, a vote for the former was a vote against the latter and a vote against your enemy does not always mean a vote for your own programme. It is therefore reasonable to expect that much of the necessary but painful reforms promised by Macron during the election campaign will be met with a notable reluctance from the majority of the French electorate.