Weeks ago, the French President Emmanuel Macron had the opportunity to become the ‘Emperor of Europe’, as the Daily Express once referred to him. Following the European elections two months ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was in a weakened position. The President’s Liberal Alliance group in Brussels could have won the presidency of the European Commission (EC). His vision was one of a ‘progressive alliance’, including social democrats such as Portugal’s Prime Minister, Antonio Costa, and centre-right parties like the Spanish Cuidadanos (Citizens). But even in her fragile state, Merkel has prevented the French from attempting to rule the Continent yet again. She has reminded Macron that Germany still pulls the EU’s strings.
A candidate from Merkel’s European People’s Party’s, Ursula Von Der Leyen, emerged as the nominee for President of the EC. Although the European Central Bank’s presidency went to the IMF’s former head, Christine Lagarde, the French President’s real opportunity to influence the EU’s direction laid in the EC. As CNN reported, Lagarde’s appointment was designed to ensure Macron remains on side, but losing the EC represents an utter humiliation for him.
At a time when Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, is leading the conservative charge against Brussels, Der Leyen’s appointment was designed to placate him. Even Italy achieved more from this process than the French did. Candidates from Salvini’s Lega Nord were never expected to win any European presidencies, but the Italians successfully collaborated with the Hungarians to block the original front-runner for the EC presidency, Dutch socialist Frans Timmermans, at the last minute. CNN said this move left the French angry.
To add to the French President’s pain, his Liberal Alliance group failed to secure the nomination for President of the European Parliament. That role was awarded to an Italian centre-left MEP called David-Maria Sassoli, in a bid to prevent any Eastern European candidate from being nominated to a post.
Furthermore, the Spanish have had their hand strengthened. Spanish Foreign Minister, Josep Borrell Fontelles, will be the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Even Belgium achieved more from this process than the French. Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel was elected President of the European Council.
What is more humiliating for Macron is that his former election rival, Marine Le Pen, is now more likely to influence the EU’s direction than he is. It is important to remember that these appointments still need to be confirmed by the European Parliament, and alternate parties are likely to cause trouble here. CNN reported that the compromise EU leaders reached over these positions may be temporary when it comes against a fractious European Parliament. The May elections injected the body with a new intake of populist parties from both sides of the spectrum, including Le Pen’s National Rally. Her party achieved 23 percent of the vote over the French President’s La Republique En Marche (LREM) at 22 percent. The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats are infuriated with Der Leyen’s appointment.
What these appointments prove is that Macron’s last opportunity to exercise any real influence abroad has been destroyed. The Daily Express‘ ‘Emperor of Europe’ truly has no clothes. He is damaged goods at home and in Europe. Lagarde’s appointment was nothing more than a token gesture to keep a losing nation on side. At home, he is perceived as the ‘president of the rich’, and the yellow vest movement, triggered by rising fuel and living costs, has tarnished his presidency almost beyond repair. His only hope of surviving 2022 depends on who his opposition candidate is, but they would have to be awful for Macron to win. Either way, his presidency is about to enter a rather depressing chapter.