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Does Emmanuel Macron want to take over the EU?

The future of the EU? Credit: Getty

May 28, 2024 - 11:50am

Rishi Sunak likes to pretend he’s the man with a plan. But if anyone deserves that title, it’s Emmanuel Macron. The French President has plotted a course through domestic and EU politics that almost defies belief.

It’s not just that he captured the Élysée Palace at the tender age of 39, but that in the process he elbowed aside both of what had been the main parties. Since then, he’s held Marine Le Pen at bay, winning re-election in 2022 by 59 to 41%. With Angela Merkel now on history’s scrapheap — and the Netherlands’ Mark Rutte departing under a Geert Wilders-shaped cloud — Macron is unchallenged as Europe’s preeminent statesman.

Though the French constitution requires Macron to step down in 2027, he’s still playing the long game. His latest move is a manoeuvre to get Mario Draghi into a leading EU role. Draghi was the president of the European Central Bank from 2011-19 who vowed to do “whatever it takes” to save the single currency during the Eurozone crisis. He succeeded, though at the price of extreme austerity, especially for the Greek people.

Draghi went on to serve as prime minister of his native Italy from 2021-22, but his technocratic turn arguably helped accelerate the rise of Giorgia Meloni and her retail brand of Right-wing populism.

The reason why Macron wants him back — this time in Brussels — is because the EU is in desperate need of leadership. With the populist threat within and the Russian threat on the outside, it’s become painfully obvious that non-entities such as Ursula von der Leyen (President of the European Commission) and Charles Michel (President of the European Council) won’t do.

Clearly, the EU wants a big establishment figure to front the bloc. But can the French President swing a top job for his Italian ally? He’d need the support of various EU power-brokers, including the skinflint Germans. Macron has managed to buck the system before when, five years ago, it suited him and Merkel to install von der Leyen. He can also make the argument that it isn’t a choice between change and the status quo, but between change Macron-style or change Le Pen-style. Finally, he might remind the Germans that they owe Draghi a favour for services rendered during the Eurozone crisis.

There’s another quality that recommends Draghi — his age. At 76, he’s unlikely to serve more than one term as Commission president — or whatever role they find for him. So time enough to establish a genuinely influential position of leadership, but not to outstay his welcome.

Indeed, if Draghi succeeds in giving the EU a degree of forward direction, then within a few years the search will be on for a worthy successor. One wonders if Emmanuel Macron, the man with a plan, has anyone in mind.


Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.

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Chipoko
Chipoko
1 month ago

M. Macron is creepy – in his personal life and his public politics.

Martin M
Martin M
1 month ago
Reply to  Chipoko

That would seem to not be such a drawback on the European stage (Exhibit 1 – Jean-Claude Juncker).

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
1 month ago

To make something clear that this article does not, these are the actual rules for electing a President of the Commission:
Appointment of the President of the Commission (President-elect). Under Article 17 paragraph 7 of the Treaty on European Union, the European Council (Heads of State or Government), taking into account the results of the elections to the European Parliament and acting by a qualified majority, proposes a candidate for President of the Commission. This candidate is then elected by a majority vote of the Parliament. If this majority is not reached in the Parliament, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, must – within 1 month – propose a new candidate to be elected by the Parliament following the same procedure.
So the candidate is elected not by Macron and the other heads of state / government, but rather by the European Parliament, which will itself be elected anew shortly.
Franklin could be forgiven for not considering this in his article – after all, up to now, the EP has done little more than rubberstamp the Council’s proposal. But this is a funny year. If the ECR, ID, Fidesz, and AfD do as well as some think, and they manage to patch together some kind of a right-wing populist coalition, they could reach the magic number (376 seats) to block any proposal that isn’t Meloni or righter. The AfD alone could bring another 30 seats to the table, while the RN (ID group) and the Reconquete (ECR group) parties in France could do likewise. Vlaams Belang is also set for a big upset in Belgium, while based on the recent nationals, Wilders is set to claim at least 15 seats in the Netherlands. Even Ireland is seeing a host of new Identity / anti-immigration candidates this election.
I’m not saying this will definitely happen, but it’s at least worth considering.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
1 month ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

Thanks for this addition to the article, although one might’ve expected that someone writing from a supposedly authoritative position for Unherd would indeed have taken this into consideration.

michael o'connell
michael o'connell
1 month ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

Zero chance of the far right having a majority in EU Parliament this time round.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
1 month ago

I mean if the right got the numbers they definitely would block. It would be politically the obvious move.
But you’re right in that they are unlikely to get the numbers. At least this time around.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 month ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

It’s highly unlikely that the EU parliament will reject the candidate that has been graciously bestowed upon them. The shift to the right is only in its early stages.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

I’d say, on balance, that you’re correct. I think the shift will be surprisingly big – maybe 200 seats across ID, ECR et al, so well ahead of what the Politico predictions are. But still far short of the majority they’ll need.
My point was more to add some context to the article.

Danny D
Danny D
1 month ago

> his technocratic turn arguably helped accelerate the rise of Giorgia Meloni

> Indeed, if Draghi succeeds in giving the EU a degree of forward direction

Yeah technocrats don’t give direction

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 month ago

I’m finding myself re-evaluating Macron lately. I had pegged him as a globalist ideologue like Trudeau but he’s shown some pragmatism and made some statements that indicate he at least knows which way the wind is blowing whether he agrees with it or not. Effective leadership requires a degree of flexibility and pragmatism to adjust to events beyond one’s control. The populist movement is too big and too broadly supported to be dismissed and suppressed/repressed through media control. Those tactics have failed. Moreover, geopolitical developments are also making globalism more problematic. Macron appears to be trying to tell his colleagues which way the wind is blowing, or as the author puts it, framing the situation as a choice between ‘change Macron style’ or ‘change Le Pen style’. If Macron has the sense to understand he will be forced to cede some ground to the populist movement on some issues, particularly immigration, or be defeated entirely, he’s a better leader than I thought and far more tolerable to my sensibilities. I always suspected this is how change would finally happen. Most people aren’t idealists one way or the other. Once enough elites and establishment people realized populist sentiment was an actual threat and could lead to a full-on revolution, they would sensibly back down and concede to some changes, forming a new consensus, a new political center if you will rather than force an existential conflict by trying to impose their will through political force. To my mind, this is a good sign. Revolutions, even when peaceful, tend to be massively disruptive and costly. Idealists have no place in politics. The leadership of Europe would be wise to listen to voices of pragmatism, as Macron’s has unexpectedly become.

Chris Maille
Chris Maille
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Populists are exactly that: politicians and parties that are elected and supported by people who have had enough of climate change hysterics, cultural revolutionaries and delusional neocons, in short: they ARE the anti-idealists.

Chris Maille
Chris Maille
1 month ago

the Russian threat on the outside

Which ‘Russian threat’ ??
This is just a fake narrative by the US neocons in order to have more permanent war. I cannot take anyone seriously who refuses to understand that, and by extension, anyone who gives those a voice who uncritically reproduce such obviously fake narratives.

Jon Morrow
Jon Morrow
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris Maille

The Baltic nations are EU members.

Chris Maille
Chris Maille
1 month ago
Reply to  Jon Morrow

and ice cream is not waterproof … what exactly are you pointing at ?