Macron to visit Germany to seek support for a beefed up eurozone
Emmanuel Macron will take power as French president on Sunday and immediately face the twin challenges of European Union reform and loosening strict labour laws in France.
After walking up the red carpet to the Élysée Palace on Sunday morning, being briefed on the nuclear deterrent by the outgoing Socialist leader François Hollande, and making his first speech, Macron will on Monday fly to Berlin to meet the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.
It is traditional for French leaders to make Berlin their first European trip.
The pro-European centrist Macron wants to boost the French-German motor at the heart of Europe and press for closer cooperation, including creating a parliament and budget for the eurozone.
Merkel welcomed Macron’s decisive election victory over the far-right Marine Le Pen, saying he carried “the hopes of millions of French people and also many in Germany and across Europe”.
But if Macron is to push for eurozone reform, he must also prove to Berlin and other European allies that he can deliver the changes he has promised on France’s sluggish economy and deficit problem.
The German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, in an interview with the weekly Spiegel, kept up his country’s pressure on France to reduce its budget deficit to the EU ceiling of 3%. “France can make it,” he said.
Macron, 39, France’s youngest elected leader, vowed during his campaign that he would immediately loosen France’s rigid labour regulations, giving businesses more power over setting working hours and deciding working conditions.
He said that if needed, he would push through these changes by decree soon after taking office.
Trade unions and leftwing demonstrators are warning of street protests if changes are not handled carefully.
Macron’s first move after taking power on Sunday will be to name his prime minister – who will have to negotiate the balancing act of Macron’s “neither right nor left” stance with government and parliament.
There has rarely been so much secrecy surrounding a French prime minister’s appointment, with speculation surrounding various politicians from the right and centre.
“Frankly, I don’t know,” said Richard Ferrand, the secretary general of Macron’s political movement when asked by a French TV journalist.
“And that’s good, because if I knew I’d be obliged to lie to you.”
Once Macron’s prime minister is in place, his fledgling political movement, rebranded as La République En Marche (La REM) or Republic on the Move, has to win a majority in the parliamentary elections in June.
Otherwise Macron could be pressured into a kind of coalition government that could see his hands tied, unable to enact his plans to ease red tape and regulations on business, overhaul work practices as well as changing the pensions and unemployment systems.
Macron’s political movement this week unveiled a batch of 428 candidates that it will field for the 577-seat parliament.
Half of them have never sat in parliament before, including a retired female bullfighter and a star mathematician, and half were women.
After Macron promised a renewal of the old political system by bringing in new talent, uniting politicians from left and right and ending the old-style horse-trading of party politics, his candidates’ list sparked his first major political row.
The veteran François Bayrou, who allied with Macron towards the end of the presidential campaign, broke ranks and complained that he had not been consulted about the list.
He told L’Obs magazine that Macron’s candidates list was “a big recycling operation for the Socialist party”, adding bitterly that 153 candidates were connected in some way to the Socialists or their allies, with much fewer from classic centrist parties.
Talks were under way with Bayrou on Friday to calm the row.
Macron’s movement was also forced to correct its list after about 10 people said they had not agreed to stand or had never applied to be a candidate.
One was Mourad Boudjellal, the wealthy president of Toulon rugby club, who said that while he was flattered about being approached, “it is not my ambition” to enter politics.