Zeit Online interviews Henrik Enderlein on the French elections.
ZEIT ONLINE: Mr. Enderlein, Emmanuel Macron took a clear pro-European position during the electoral campaign and celebrated his victory with the European anthem. Will the new French President now save the European Union?
Henrik Enderlein: Macron's victory is a very important moment. It showed that it is possible to win elections on a European platform. Two-thirds of the French people voted for Macron.
Nevertheless, we should not delude ourselves. The European movement has only bought some time against populism. Now all pro-European politicians have an obligation. If a French candidate paves the way, if he defends Europe against all trends, Europe must now take the necessary steps and support Macron to ensure that extremists will be less popular in five years than they are today.
ZEIT ONLINE: Which reforms are required in the EU?
Enderlein: First of all, Europe must return to growth. A decade after the great economic crisis began, we can no longer afford to tolerate youth unemployment and the still-smoldering banking crisis. We are creating conditions that leave young people without a chance. We are destroying hopes and dreams for the future – particularly for young women. Europe suffers under these conditions. The EU has to show that it is part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Second, in order to implement reforms in the EU, Germany and France must claim them together again instead of operating in parallel. I’m thinking of Europe's digitalisation, I’m thinking of even stronger coordination in economic policy, I’m thinking of energy policy. If Germany and France are unable to come to an agreement in these areas, how can such an agreement be brought about for Europe?
ZEIT ONLINE: Up to now the positions of the two countries are far apart. Macron criticised Germany for its highly export-oriented economy. What can he expect from the German government now?
Enderlein: If a French President has the courage to walk through the Louvre to the sounds of the European anthem as a first sign to the world and take a symbolic step towards Europe, Germany must have the courage to give up some of its deadlocked positions. Actually it’s not about turning Europe into a transfer union with Eurobonds, which is the specter being raised in Germany. Macron will not make this demand. But he will call for better solutions than those available today; such as a eurozone budget, the legitimisation of decisions that affect eurozone countries, regarding investments, or on stabilising the European banking system.
ZEIT ONLINE: Although his party is closer to the conservative Fillon, the German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble recommended voting for Macron at an early stage– a first signal?
Enderlein: Schäuble is an expert in recognising political developments. He knew exactly that Macron was the only candidate with whom Germany would be able to cooperate in the end. But now I certainly expect that the Finance Minister and the Chancellor will translate their congratulations into action. Germany can afford politically and economically to stand firmly by France's side. It would not be in Germany's best interest if Macron failed.
ZEIT ONLINE: There is a great deal of discontent in France. The country must change so that Germany and France are once again able to push the EU forward together as a team. What kind of reforms are especially important to accomplish this?
Enderlein: France is a divided country, but actually not as economically weak as is often portrayed. If you look at gross domestic product, you will see that Germany and France have grown at the exact same rate since 2000. France is not the sick man of Europe. The pharmaceutical industry, the luxury goods and creative industries, the defence industry - they are all booming.
The problem is that this productivity is not filtering through to the society as a whole. France has many strong, major corporations and start-ups, but medium-sized businesses are expanding, and too few jobs are being created. The reasons for this are bureaucratic hurdles and high demands on businesses that employ more than 20 to 25 people. Macron would like to create a new dynamic and flexibility in this area. He is also calling for closer dialogue between employers and unions so that businesses can more flexibly adjust employee work to economic needs. This would mean that in lean times, employees would work slightly less but in good times more than the regular 35 hours per week. We are, after all, familiar with the strengths of employee co-determination in Germany.
ZEIT ONLINE: It is exactly the unions that have caused so many of Macron's predecessors to fail.
Enderlein: The extremely left-leaning Confederation of Labour CGT, which is firmly anchored within the large corporations, is a real opponent of such approaches. However, the French Democratic Trade Union Confederation CFDT, which is now larger than the CGT, was always supportive of Macron when he served as economy minister in the Hollande administration, although they did not support his presidential campaign. The CFDT urges exactly this kind of dialogue between small and medium-sized businesses.
ZEIT ONLINE: Why should Macron suddenly be able to implement these reforms? He was unable to do it as economy minister.
Enderlein: Macron learned a lesson from his predecessor Francois Hollande; he saw what it means when a president does not act. He is at the threshold of his career. He knows all too well that the next five years are going to be decisive for him. Whether he ends as a failed president at the age of 44 or goes on to develop a long political career is completely up to him.
I really don't think he will shy away from conflict and that he is eager to revitalise the country from the ground up. He had been in office for less than six months as economy minister and the notaries were already taking to the streets against him. Whoever can upset notaries enough to make them demonstrate is definitely not afraid of conflict. Macron knows that he also has to break with privileges. Everyone in France knows this – and it could give him support.
ZEIT ONLINE: What kind of a person is Macron? What differentiates him from Hollande?
Enderlein: Everything, actually. Macron is a doer, a pragmatist, a quick, sometimes overactive person who wants to initiate things. You sense a certain impatience in Macron, with Hollande it was more apathy. I also think that right up to the end of his term, Hollande never really took over office because he was so surprised to have won the presidency the way he did. Macron is also surprised but he also showed yesterday that he does not want to waste any time in signalising: I am president and I will also live out this office.
Hollande had always said he was a normal president, a totally normal citizen. Macron already said during the campaign that he would not be a normal president. And yesterday he showed us that he sees himself as a strong man, as a charismatic leader who will guide the country through this difficult period. Two politicians could not be more different.
ZEIT ONLINE: Macron will still have to expect opposition. A lot of people voted for him as the lesser of two evils.
Enderlein: First of all: Two-thirds voted for him, which is a large majority. Whether at the end it was out of conviction or out of political calculation no longer plays a direct role for the president. He has come to power and he will shape the history of this country. However, decision time comes after the election; the parliamentary elections on 11 and 18 June will decide how he will actually be able to govern and steer the land. They will also decide if he has a parliamentary majority, if he must govern in a coalition, or if he even ends up in cohabitation, a constellation in which he as president ends up as a figurehead, with the prime minister in charge of the country's destiny.
There was a first indication yesterday that something akin to an alliance is already forming around Macron. I am confident that he will have a functioning majority behind him after the parliament elections.
ZEIT ONLINE: Will he be able to permanently stem the flow of populism?
Enderlein: If Macron does not succeed, the National Front or its successor party will come to power in 2022. That's why Macron cannot make any mistakes. One of his goals is to ensure that the 35% who voted for Le Pen yesterday no longer have a reason to vote for a populist party in five years. That also goes for the extreme left. Macron knows that bringing those excluded from society back into the fold is the decisive aspect in leading France back to success. Europe can only hope that he makes it.\
Read the article in Zeit Online from 8 May 2017 here. (In German)