When looked at dispassionately, though, it is just as unlikely that the next German government will have sufficient far-sightedness to find a productive, a forward-looking answer when addressing the question Macron has posed. I would find some measure of relief were they even able to identify the significance of the question.
It’s unlikely enough that a coalition government wracked by internal tension will be able to pull itself together to the degree necessary to modify the two parameters Angela Merkel established in the early days of the financial crisis: both the intergovernmentalism that granted Germany a leadership role in the European Council and the austerity policies that she, thanks to this role, imposed on the EU’s southern countries to the self-serving, outsized advantage of Germany. And it is even more unlikely that this chancellor, domestically weakened as she is, will refrain from step forward to make clear to her charming French partner that she will unfortunately be unable to apply herself to the reform vision he has put forth. Vision, after all, has never been her strong suit.
She too is fully aware that the European currency union, which is in Germany’s most fundamental interest, cannot be stabilized in the long term if the current situation – characterized by years of deepening divergence between the economies of Europe’s north and south when it comes to national income, unemployment and sovereign debt – is allowed to persist. The specter of the “transfer union” blinds us to this destructive tendency. It can only be stopped if truly fair competition across national borders is established and political policies are implemented to slow down the ongoing erosion of solidarity between national populations and within individual countries. A mention of youth unemployment should serve as example enough.
Macron hasn’t just drafted a vision, he specifically demands that the eurozone make progress on corporate tax rate convergence, he demands an effective financial transaction tax, the step-by-step convergence of the different social policy regimes, the establishment of a European trade prosecutor to ensure that the rules of international trade are adhered to, and much, much more.
It is this self-empowerment of European citizens that he means when speaking of “sovereignty.” When it comes to identifying steps toward institutionalizing this newfound clout, Macron points to closer cooperation in the eurozone on the basis of a joint budget. The central and controversial proposal reads as follows: “A budget must be placed under the strong political guidance of a common minister and be subject to strict parliamentary control at (the) European level. Only the eurozone with a strong and international currency can provide Europe with the framework of a major economic power.”
By demonstrating the pretense of applying political solutions to the problems facing our globalized society, Macron distinguishes himself like few others from the standard fare of chronically overwhelmed, opportunistic and conformist politicians that govern day after day with little in the way of inspiration. It’s enough to make you rub your eyes: Is there really somebody out there who wants to change the status quo? Is there really someone with sufficient irrational courage to rebel against the fatalism of vassals who unthinkingly kowtow to the putatively coercive systemic imperatives of a global economic order embodied by remote international organizations?
More than anything, though, political parties agree that European issues are to be carefully avoided in national elections, unless, of course, domestic problems can be blamed on Brussels bureaucrats. But now, Macron wants to do away with this mauvaise foi. He already broke one taboo by placing the reform of the European Union at the heart of his election campaign and rode that message, only one year after Brexit – against “the sad passions of Europe,” as he said – to victory.
That fact lends credibility to the oft-uttered trope about democracy being the essence of the European project, at least when Macron says it. I am not in a position to evaluate the implementation of the political reforms he has planned for France. We will have to wait and see if he is able to fulfill the “social-liberal” promise, that difficult balance between social justice and economic productivity. As a leftist, I’m no “Macronist,” if there is such a thing. But the way he speaks about Europe makes a difference. He calls for understanding for the founding fathers, who established Europe without citizen input because, he says, they belonged to an enlightened avantgarde. But he now wants to transform the elite project into a citizens’ project and is proposing reasonable steps toward democratic self-empowerment of European citizens against the national governments who stand in each other’s way in the European Council.
As such, he isn’t just demanding the introduction of a universal electoral law for the EU, but also the creation of trans-national party lists. That, after all, would fuel the growth of a European party system, without which the European Parliament will never become a place where societal interests, reaching across national borders, are collectively identified and addressed.