Meeting Macron in the Middle

How France and Germany Can Revive the EU

Emmanuel Macron greeting supporters in Le Touquet, France, May 2017. Benoit Tessier / REUTERS

In March, a set of photographs reproduced in the international press captured two possible futures for France’s relationships with Germany and the European Union. One image showed Marine Le Pen, the presidential candidate of the far-right National Front, meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. The other showed Emmanuel Macron, the 39-year-old candidate of the centrist En Marche! party, sitting with German leader Angela Merkel in the chancellery in Berlin.

On the one hand was a presidential hopeful who pledged to break from France’s elite foreign policy consensus—which calls for strategic independence and close cooperation with Germany within a pro-European, multilateral framework—in favor of an exit from the EU and closer ties with Russia. On the other was a candidate who was leading a liberal, pro-European campaign and has been a standard-bearer for France’s traditional ties with Germany.

On May 7, Macron was elected French president, taking 66 percent of the vote to Le Pen’s 34 percent. His presidency offers a rare chance to revive the French-German relationship just when Europe needs it most. Together, Berlin and Paris can strengthen the EU and the eurozone, rally the continent against illiberalism, and better defend European interests on the world stage.

German leaders should compromise with Emmanuel Macron. His presidency may offer the last chance to prevent the EU from crumbling for good.

It won’t be easy. Without a well-oiled party apparatus and the guarantee of a parliamentary majority, Macron is in a precarious position. He must advance pro-European policies in a country where most voters view the EU unfavorably and where many have turned to the far right and the far left because of their unease with the effects of globalization. France and Germany’s economic imbalances and differences over EU policy have produced resentments on both sides.

Yet renewed cooperation is the only sound choice. Macron will be able to deliver on his plans to reform France’s public finances and labor market only if

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