After weeks of negotiations, on 3rd July 2019, leaders of the 28 member states of the European Union reached a consensus on the future leaders of the bloc. The long and tumultuous negotiation process showed once again how checks and balances change within Brussels. With two females among a total of five top EU jobs, gender equality became one of the key factors in the nomination process, meanwhile another common aspect of the top EU nominations remained overshadowed – Francophilia. The names show an important victory for French President Emmanuel Macron and his willingness to become the new leader of the European Union as German Chancellor Angela Merkel steps aside.
President of the European Commission Ursula Von der Leyen, President of the European Commission Charles Michel and President of the European Central Bank Christine Lagarde are the Francophile names among the new leaders in Brussels. The nomination of Von der Leyen was perhaps the most symbolic one, as Macron even managed to convince Angela Merkel to leave the Spitzenkandidat system and nominee, Manfred Weber alone. Von der Leyen, born and raised in Brussels, and bilingual in German and French was the most Francophile name that the French President could find from Germany. It is a clear sign that Macron will try to become the main influencer in the European Union’s upcoming policy period. His job will not be easy at all, as most of the pro-EU leaders are facing an uncertain period these days.
Angela Merkel is leaving her role as Chancellor in 2021 to Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, whose EU vision remains undiscovered. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is facing several political uncertainties in his country (nevertheless he manages to nominate Josep Borrell as the new EU Foreign Policy Chief), Carles Michel is leaving Belgium’s leadership among the rising far-right and anti-EU sentiments. Apart from these problems, the European Union itself is facing several problems such as a yet to be concluded Brexit process, migration crisis, and the rise of far-right political parties across the continent. On the other hand, Emmanuel Macron himself is not living an easy life in Paris, among yellow vest protests and resignations.
This month Environment Minister Francois de Rugy announced his resignation following allegations that he was organizing luxury dinner events with the money of tax payers. De Rugy’s resignation marks the 15th one since President Macron took oath in May 2017. Among these departures, the exit of names such as Nicolas Hulot are considered as strong blows against the French President. However, the resignations were only a small part of the iceberg for Macron’s Presidency, as his popularity saw a major decrease during the Yellow Vest protests. The demonstrations, which started towards the end of 2018, continued during the first quarter of 2019 in full speed. The protests seen as one of the most violent in France since 1968, causing major disruptions within the country. During this period, the French President’s approval rating decreased even under 25%, raising many question marks about his Presidency. Despite Macron’s ability of picking people closer to his view for EU’s top jobs, his main rival in France, Marine Le Pen made a surprise comeback in these elections.
Despite Macron’s clear victory against Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in 2017 (66.1% against 33.9%), the crises mentioned above opened a chance for Le Pen to return stronger in 2019’s EU elections. With the support of other far-right political parties of the European Alliance created by political parties such as Matteo Salvini’s The League and Jorg Meuthen’s Alternative for Germany, Le Pen managed to have greater visibility inside and outside of France. Another important aspect of this comeback, despite Le Pen’s denials, was the involvement of US President Donald Trump’s former advıser, Steve Bannon. Although it is not clear how much Bannon is included in the parties of European Alliance’s political campaign, it is not difficult to say Bannon’s presence is one of the key elements in Le Pen’s narrow victory against Macron.
After the election victory in 2017, we saw two different images of Emmanuel Macron; a young European politician who was ready to become the new savior of the bloc and a leftist politician who was suffering against far-right political parties and lack of support by voters. After days of difficult rounds of talks with all European leaders, Macron managed to have a team which will give him an opportunity to build a fresh and more pro-EU bloc, but he continues to face difficult times in his own country in many areas. It is important to have a new figure such as Macron in Brussels after the departure of Merkel, and he has the fortune of being the only candidate in this position. On the other hand, his position inside France is weakening day by day. Ultimately, his focus on Brussels may cause him to lose ground in his own country and his platonic love relationship with Brussels, leaving the bloc in a strong identity crisis.