Is Pécresse right to call Macron a “federalist”?

On France Inter, January 20, Les Républicains presidential candidate Valérie Pécresse returned to the controversy over the European flag hanging under the Arc de Triomphe at the launch of the French presidency of the European Union: “Emmanuel Macron put up the European flag, he is president of the EU, he forgets France and he is already gone. Federalist!” The European f* word was out.

In France, the word is now almost an insult. The European federalist is one who aspires to transfer ever more powers to the European Union with the eventual constitution of a federation endowed with federal institutions and sovereign powers, such as defense or currency. Since France’s “no” in the referendum on the european constitutional treaty in 2005, French politicians sought to deviate from it at all costs: they knew that the people did not want a constitution, an attribute of a state or a federation. But what about Emmanuel Macron?

“Macron is ready for more federal bodies”

Its Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune, qualifies the European federalists as “radicals”. At the same time, since the start of his five-year term, there has been no shortage of proposals with a federal dimension from Emmanuel Macron. Latest: in front of MEPs, on January 19, he supported to the applause a right of legislative initiative in favor of the European Parliament, when currently the initiative for European laws falls solely to the European Commission, the body which would come closest to a government if the Union were a federation.

Since the founding speech of his European project, delivered at the Sorbonne in 2017, we also know that he favors the creation of transnational lists in the European elections. In a coalition agreement recently, in the European Parliament, the conservatives of the European People’s Party (EPP), the European Social Democrats (S&D) and Renew, the liberal group in which the members of La République en Marche sit, put the creation of such lists on their agenda Politics. European citizens could then vote for deputies from countries other than their own. “This would allow the emergence of a European people, when the ballot is currently based on national lists only”, we explain at Renew.

“The president knows that the Union has federal features. We speak of a “federation of nation-states”, which means that the EU is neither a state nor a simple international organization, but a unique creation, a UFO, analyzes Sébastien Maillard, director of the Jacques Delors Institute. It has federal powers in certain areas such as trade or monetary policy, with the European Central Bank which is clearly a federal institution. It has federal bodies and on that, Emmanuel Macron is comfortable and ready for there to be more in other areas. He’s a pragmatist.”

Thus, in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, the French president initiated with German Chancellor Angela Merkel the great European loan of 750 billion euros. Qualified for “Hamiltonian moment” of the European Union, in reference to the very first US Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, he plans for the Twenty-Seven to go into debt together to finance national recovery plans.

Will the Greens in power in Germany change the situation?

In his 2017 speech, the president was also ambitious for the eurozone. He suggested creating a Minister of Finance and establishing real parliamentary budgetary control, the 2008 financial crisis and the Greek debt crisis having revealed a lack of coordination of economic and financial policies in the EU as well as undemocratic management of the euro area by the Member States. His 2017 proposals had not succeeded on the German side.

But today the contract of the new ruling coalition in Germany frankly mentions its desire to reform Europe with the aim “the evolution of the EU towards a European federal state”. The German Greens, now in government, have long advocated the federalization of the European Union.

Daniel Freund, German environmentalist MEP, explains as follows: “We must strengthen the powers of the European Parliament, hold real European elections with transnational lists and reduce the right of veto of the Member States. We must also transform the Council into a truly European institution, with representatives elected directly or indirectly as in a senate, and not just send ministers to decide on legislation.” The Council of the EU currently chaired by France is this little-known institution, which works as a co-legislator with the European Parliament, similar to a second chamber, but made up of ministers from the governments of the Twenty-Seven.

France, incompatible with federalism?

However, the federal ambitions of the German Greens risk exceeding the convictions of the French president, however European they may be. Because France, a unitary, centralized country, differs from the Federal Republic of Germany or from decentralized state organizations such as Belgium, Italy or Spain. Basically, the tradition is not really federal. “And Macron is also part of this tradition. He does not want to go to a pure federal system where there would be an upper house, a lower house and a Commission which would be like a government., says Sébastien Maillard.

When the direct election of members of the European Parliament by universal suffrage was negotiated, the France of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing obtained the creation of the European Council, which brings together the heads of state and government. It is another European institution, now powerful, which directs the political agenda of the European Commission and chooses its president during the famous European summits – a stranglehold of European States, defenders of national interests , on the structures with a federal dimension of the EU.

Conversely, the European Parliament would like to introduce a system of top candidate, that is to say a system where the head of the list of the party that came first in the European elections would take the reins of the Commission, supposed to represent the general European interest, which would give the institutions of the EU the characteristics of a parliamentary system.

It had been the mode of designation of President Jean-Claude Juncker in 2014. But it did not last: five years later, after the 2019 European elections, Emmanuel Macron blocked the German Manfred Weber, head of the EPP list, him preferring Ursula Von der Leyen, the current President of the Commission. Not very federalist, but treaty compliant.

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Nevertheless, to make the EU more democratic, the French president has also initiated a citizen consultation on Europe, from which proposals with a federal aim could emerge. However, launched in May 2021, the Conference on the Future of Europe has already come up against the reluctance of a dozen Member States who indicated that they would not be bound by the recommendations resulting from this exercise in participatory democracy. For them, there is no question of reconsidering the current institutional balance. Federalist or not, Emmanuel Macron is not alone, and must deal with twenty-six other Member States.

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