France has stopped Germany to have its way, by suggesting another German candidate for the European commission and keeping the ECB top job.
There were behind-the-scenes discussions and night sessions during which “the Macron-Orban axis imposed itself”. Manfred Weber, the disappointed Spitzenkandidate of the German right, clearly accused France and Hungary of not having obtained the position he coveted, that of the Presidency of the European Commission, in an interview with Bild.
Weber plays rough here. It’s true that Macron’s European diplomacy seems to have worked not so badly for once, even though it is Germany that is taking over the European Commission. But it’s not because of Orban.
Macron has indeed succeeded in appointing Christine Lagarde to the ECB, a more than strategic position, especially for France. Weak growth and inflation require that monetary policy remains very accommodating. This will benefit both French economic activity, which needs support, and public finances: with a debt reaching 100% of GDP, France does need the very low rates that the ECB’s monetary policy has been promoting since the financial crisis.
The advantage of the ECB is that it does not prevent France from having another job at the European Commission. Macron should place Pascal Canfin as climate commissioner. Climate is a crucial subject both for Macron’s international image, but also for the future: given the rise of environmental issues in citizen’s concerns, the French president has an interest in improving his record on the subject if he wishes to be re-elected in 2022. Otherwise, voters will turn to the Greens and make his reelection more difficult.
Ursula von der Leyen, Belgium’s Charles Michel, Spain’s Josep Borrell and Christine Lagarde have something in common: they all speak french. That was definitely an asset when the German defence minister met Macron, and this sheer situation speaks for itself.
Germany has been in control of the fate of Europe for years without anyone being able to complain, and what Macron has done, resisting such dominance, is something definitely new.
But he was not alone: Southern countries supported him. It is not surprising that Hungary also had its say, but it is not a Hungarian-French alliance that would have made it possible to change the situation on its own: many other countries are tired of Germany’s monopolistic rule.
Paradoxically, this desire to rebalance results in a Commission presidency with a German on the top. With all that follows: a cabinet of the President that will undoubtedly be largely German, and German influences in the executive’s arbitrations.
But Ursula von der Leyen knows that she owes her position to Emmanuel Macron. She won’t be able to deny him much.
However, there is still a serious problem to be solved: in addition to the Presidency of the European Commission, the posts of Secretary-General of the Commission and the European Parliament are also held by two Germans, Martin Selmayr and Klaus Welle, both of whom used to be members of the CDU party, i.e. Merkel’s centre-righ party, as well as the likely future President of the Commission. That makes a lot of Germans.
The least that can be done is to change the Secretaries-General. The irregularities in Martin Selmayr’s appointment make him the perfect protagonist for a Brussels goodbye.