French President Emmanuel Macron published an op-ed in 28 news outlets, 28 countries, and 28 languages. The reason? The European Parliament election scheduled for 23-26 May 2019 and the threat of nationalism in Europe.
Macron’s letter is widely seen as the beginning of his party’s electoral campaign. His feel-good message covered a range of topics in line with three core themes:
- Defending freedom (cyber defence).
- Protecting the continent (border control).
- The spirit of progress (curbing climate change; worker protection).
Each capital has its own reaction, but it is fair to say that, beyond France, it landed with a bit of a thud. Generally, the other capitals seem a bit distracted by their own domestic issues. More subtly, there seems increasing resistance to the idea that France or its dynamic young president should use the press to set the agenda for the rest of the EU.
VIEW FROM PARIS – CAMPAIGN MODE
The perception in France is that Macron’s op-ed has elicited a largely positive and constructive reaction across Europe – although mostly from like-minded partners – save for its most important partner: Germany. This was not another Sorbonne speech, but a letter to EU citizens in the early days of the European Parliament election campaign. The goal of the letter is to please voters rather than to immediately gain the approval of European governments. In France, the European Parliament election campaign is yet to begin, and Macron clearly sought an early start, at a time when his party’s list and platform have not been made public yet. Thus, the letter is for domestic consumption, including as part of a strategy for extricating Macron from the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) crisis.
Macron has adopted his usual approach in Europe. He wants to appear pro-European, but not pro-status quo. He does not want to be defensive. In France, there will be a discussion on whether Macron is isolated in Europe (turning on his efforts to cooperate with Germany) and the leadership contest in Europe – as Sylvie Kauffman has written.
VIEW FROM ROME – THE SOUND OF CRICKETS
In Italy, one can hear only the sound of crickets. Macron’s op-ed was published in Italian, but it has generated no real interest in the national media. Events in Algeria have prompted a great deal of discussion among Italians, overshadowing the French president’s message. Following the serious diplomatic crisis between Italy and France, Italian elites largely refrain from commenting on French politicians. Macron was interviewed on one of Italy’s most popular television shows, but neither of the country’s deputy prime ministers said a word about it.
VIEW FROM MADRID – ON BOARD
Macron’s speech was published in all leading newspapers in Spain. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez endorsed it in a tweet but, beyond that, the response has been quite muted. This is largely an issue of timing, as the European Parliament election debate has not really begun in Spain. Indeed, Spain’s political attention is focused on a snap national election. Nonetheless, Macron’s proposals are likely to be well-received in Spain – although his failure to mention the advancement of the monetary union could generate some disappointment. Given that pro-Europeanism is still the norm in Spain, the country has plenty of room for Macron’s proposal.
VIEW FROM BERLIN – TALK WITHOUT ACTION
Macron’s letter inspired warm words on German social media, but nothing more concrete. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, leader of the Christian Democratic Union, officially responded to it in an op-ed for Welt am Sonntag, expressing solidarity with Macron’s desire to strengthen Europe as a global actor but rejecting key aspects of his plan, such as a common eurozone budget. The general feeling is that Germany should stay close to Paris and Macron, but it seems the Germans are not really ready to jump on that train.
Interestingly, the German translation of the letter was published behind a paywall in Die Welt. It is hard to gauge how much traction it has beyond the Berlin bubble, but presumably very little. In any case, it is hard to imagine that its content would have impressed most Germans.
VIEW FROM SOFIA – MOBILITY PACKAGE
The timing of Macron’s letter was poor for reaching a Bulgarian audience. The op-ed appeared in all of Bulgaria’s main media outlets, but there was not much discussion of it. Crucially, in Bulgaria, Macron’s name is synonymous with the European Commission’s Mobility Package.
Because it has become a point of national pride to defend the transport sector, discussions of the Mobility Package far outweigh those of equal pay, for example. Although the topic has the power to change the whole European Parliament election campaign in Bulgaria, Macron remains a divisive figure in this part of Europe.
VIEW FROM WARSAW – BOTH SIDES NOW
Macron’s op-ed was published in Rzeczpospolita – a centre-to-centre-right daily with a middle-class and upper-middle-class readership (the Polish equivalent of the London Times). Although it was quoted by all major media outlets, it prompted very few commentaries in response. Nonetheless, Adam Traczyk, the Wiosna party’s foreign policy coordinator, published an op-ed in support of Macron’s proposals.
Politicians from the ruling Law and Justice party frame the op-ed as an attempt to divert attention away from France’s internal problems. They describe Macron’s proposals as undemocratic and detrimental to member states’ sovereignty.
European Council President Donald Tusk expressed his support on Twitter: “I agree with @EmmanuelMacron. Do not allow external anti-European forces to influence our elections and decide on key priorities and new leadership of EU. All those who care about EU should cooperate during and after the EP elections. The renaissance of Europe must start now.”
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of its individual authors.