But while Macron’s platform is avowedly liberal both economically and socially, his plans for European trade have a distinctly protectionist flavor. You might even say he wants to “make Europe great again” and “put Europe first.” Or something.
More than a third of French voters backed the hard-right, Euroskeptic protectionism of Marine Le Pen in the recent election. Elsewhere in Europe, parties who want to close borders and stop globalization have surged in recent years. Macron is seeking a pro-European response to this movement, or, as he put it in his presidential manifesto, a Europe that “concentrates on major challenges and dares to defend its interests and values in the world.”
Macron’s proposals include a “buy European act” that would make it harder for non-EU companies to get public contracts in Europe. And when he visited German Chancellor Angela Merkel in May, Macron urged her to strengthen EU laws to stop “dumping,” wherein a non-EU company exports a product to Europe at prices lower than market value.
But his first clash on this issue is likely to arise at a European Council summit next week, the Financial Times reported Thursday, when EU leaders will discuss proposals that would see Brussels undertake national security screening for foreign takeovers of European companies. Free-trade advocates such as the Netherlands and the Nordic states are likely to push back, the paper reports.
Leaders will also discuss how to boost “jobs, growth and competitiveness,” granting Macron the opportunity to press for better protection for other European industries.
Anand Menon, professor of European politics and foreign affairs at King’s College London, says that if Macron goes to the meeting to push this agenda, he might well secure some sort of rhetorical commitment to it on the declaration issued on the meeting by the council.
“I do think the odds of him getting something he can legitimately call a win when he gets home are quite good,” Menon says. But, he adds, a big gulf between words and actions remains, especially in the European Union, where 27 leaders signing off on a statement might be relatively easy to come by, but going through the multifaceted process of policy change is much more difficult. “I think it will be very, very hard to get the consensus you need to do this,” Menon says.
What’s more, argues Karel De Gucht, who served as Europe’s commissioner for trade until 2014, Macron’s solution won’t tackle the problems faced by angry voters. “If Europe buys European, and [the] U.S. buys U.S., and everybody buys his own stuff, that will affect trade.”
De Gucht says European politicians should be “straight” with voters about the causes of economic malaise; digitalization, he says, is a the cause of more job losses than globalization. But he also has submitted a proposal to Brussels that would allow Europe to close its public procurement markets to countries that did not open theirs, and says the EU should allocate more money to its existing fund aimed at addressing the downsides of globalization.
Menon, meanwhile, points out that Europe has always sought to protect its industries: “They’ve always done it in trade deals, because there, the French have a veto,” he says.
Some positive headlines for Macron, Menon concedes, may be useful in the short term. “The danger comes down the line when nothing changes,” he says. In the end, Macron’s fight for European protection may turn into a sideshow.
If the new president’s plans to liberalize the French economy domestically and reform the euro currency don’t deliver change in the form of more employment, those angry voters are only going to get angrier.