POLITICO: Lame ducks Macron and Scholz

9:25 01.06.2024 •

Scholz and Macron with their spouses.
Photo: AFP

With the European election less than two weeks away, France’s Emmanuel Macron is in Berlin on Tuesday as part of a show of Franco-German unity. According to a French official, Macron aims to “set the agenda” and “lay out strategic priorities” for Europe’s future alongside his German counterpart, Olaf Scholz, during the visit, POLITICO notes.

The problem is that Europe isn’t sure these two — the fabled Franco-German engine of the EU project — should be in charge anymore.

It’s not just that Macron and Scholz have a notoriously icy personal relationship. Or that officials in Paris and Berlin gleefully brief against one another, with the French accusing the Germans of being narrow-minded and hidebound by their coalition — and the Germans saying France is full of nonsense (or something else) on Ukraine. It’s not even that, on key issues like energy, Paris and Berlin are hopelessly at odds.

The new risk for Europe is that Scholz and Macron increasingly look like lame ducks to their fellow EU leaders, politically weakened on the home front and incapable of inspiring confidence in a shared vision for the union.

Both preside over lackluster economies. Both face humiliating defeats at the hands of far-right parties ahead of the June 6-9 European Parliament election. In Macron’s case, polls suggest the election could be a rout, with Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party potentially trouncing his centrist Renaissance group by 16 percentage points. Scholz’ Socialists also look in danger of being beaten into a humiliating third place by the hard right.

The mix of economic weakness, personal frostiness and political weakness is toxic — and critics say it could seriously undermine their authority during top jobs negotiations after the European Parliament elections.

“Macron is going to take a serious beating in this election. The other leaders know this and sense weakness. Does he think that after this, he can dictate terms to the rest of Europe? He will take what he can get,” said a senior conservative political operative in Brussels.

Macron’s visit to Germany is being styled as a major diplomatic moment. The first state visit by a French leader in 24 years, it coincides with the 75th anniversary of Germany’s Basic Law, setting out the country’s democratic constitution. Invited by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the French leader is in the country for three days and is seeking to showcase his efforts at learning German.

Even when Paris and Berlin do manage to see eye-to-eye, their efforts to lead and have others follow are falling short. In April, the two sides spent a few days in April aligning their aims for a European Council meeting. The aim was to kickstart talks about a capital markets union, which Draghi has described as a necessary step toward unlocking Europe’s economic potential.

Yet the Franco-German push was promptly seen off by a group of 10 countries not on board with the CMU, and the conclusions lack any kind of specificity on next steps.

Ditto on enlargement. While Paris and Berlin did work closely on a white paper spelling out the need for internal EU reforms as a complement to bringing in new members, that discussion has since been sidelined — as has the immediate prospect of opening formal accession talks for Ukraine and Moldova, deemed too sensitive to handle during campaign season. Diplomats are now tentatively penciling in the opening of formal accession talks for June 25, after the election.

The upshot? Europe now lacks both an engine and a coherent roadmap.


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