Emmanuel Macron also started in 2017 Germany with an enormous leap of faith in his office, but the initial affection of many Germans for France's new president quickly cooled off. Many liberals and conservatives soon dismissed him and his European political demands as "typically French", many leftists saw him as a neoliberal dismantling of the welfare state - and they were all wrong.
It's now been four years since Macron's movement came out of nowhere to win the French presidency - and that's why it's in a year from now France a European choice of fate: Will Macron be re-elected - or in the end even become the right-wing extremist anti-European Marine Le Pen French President, with devastating consequences for the EU?
At the weekend, the right-wing extremists from the "Rassemblement national" made Marine Le Pen their presidential candidate, while the conservatives won the regional elections in the past two weeks - so is Macron's re-election in danger?
For four years now, the French president has been viewed in Germany in a distorted, misunderstood and underestimated manner again and again. It is therefore high time to dispel the following five German Macron myths.
1. "Macron wants our money"
It is one of the most widespread German misunderstandings about the French president and even made it onto the front page of SPIEGEL: »The dear friend - Macron saves Europe, and Germany should pay«Was the headline in May 2017 after the 39-year-old's election victory - and managed to summarize the Germans' exaggerated expectations and greatest fears in one sentence.
Macron had just defeated the far-right anti-European Marine Le Pen, while he himself had EU stars and stripes distributed everywhere during the election campaign - so the first part of the sentence was correct. The second part, of course, reflects a deeply rooted error that continues to this day.
First of all: The French franchise is like that Federal Republic a net contributor to the EU. France transfers 111 euros per head Brüssel, Germany 208 euros. That means: also for Paris "more Europe" is a loss-making business in purely accounting terms. In addition, the Germans benefit much more from the European market; 2019 sold the export world champion goods worth 22,5 percent of his national income (GDP) to the EU, France 12 percent.
What is true, however: In France, different economic concepts dominate than in Germany. When in doubt, Berlin would rather have a balanced budget than state investments. The reverse is true in Paris - and so Macron, like most of his predecessors, would like the EU to incur joint debts and thus invest more. The Germans traditionally resist this. But Paris also wants to pay more itself to strengthen Europe economically - and with these ideas has also partially prevailed in the dispute over the Corona reconstruction fund. The “dear friend” Macron was never interested in helping himself to German money pots - anyone who portrays it that way misunderstands the reality.
2. "Macron makes neoliberal politics"
The caricature of the neoliberal Macron has spread among many social democrats and leftists in Germany. The author Didier Eribon (return to Reims), a world-famous French commentator in Germany (who is hardly known in his home country), may also be responsible for this. Eribon, a supporter of the openly anti-German left wing Jean-Luc Mélenchon, discredited Macron in his interviews as a class fighter from above: The president was doing neoliberal politics. But he doesn't - and neither is he a French Gerhard Schröder.
Certainly, Macron wants, as he often said, "to make his country competitive again." And he does so with considerable success: France drew more in 2019 and 2020 Foreign investment on than the Federal Republic. 2018 and 2019 growth the French economy faster than the German, despite strikes and revolts by the "yellow vests".
However, President Macron chose completely different means than Chancellor Schröder at the time, who relied on low wages in order to keep up with global price competition. On the contrary, Macron has increased the net minimum wage and the minimum pension.
Nevertheless sank unemployment shortly before the pandemic fell to below eight percent, which is a remarkable figure for France. How does Macron do it? He has lowered the taxes on low wages and thus socialized the costs of competition policy, while Germany burdens a lot on the low-wage earners.
Macron's policy does have individual elements that one could describe with the term »neoliberal«: He has softened the protection against dismissal and lowered capital taxes in favor of the rich. But he is not a welfare state dismantler. In Macron's France, "just" 37 percent of the unemployed are at risk of poverty, in Germany 69,4 percent. In addition, Paris is investing heavily in education. Macron has limited school classes in socially disadvantaged areas to a maximum of twelve students. The "teacher per 100 students" quota rose by six percent within four years.
3. "Macron failed in Europe"
“A disappointment called Macron,” said the “Wirtschaftswoche«- and she is not alone in Germany with the verdict. In the Federal Republic of Germany the image of the autocratic EU visionary Macron is widespread, who although swinging big speeches, gets nothing on the line. But the opposite is the case.
When Macron gave his Europe speech in 2017 at the venerable Sorbonne University and set the goal of "European sovereignty", his speech sounded aloof. But he got through with many of his core messages. Even Angela Merkel stressed meanwhile, what Macron demanded at the time: "In order to secure Europe's economic success and thus its ability to act in the future, Europe must become sovereign both technologically and digitally."
And not only that: Germany is approaching some of the positions of French economic and trade politicians. Even the CDU election program has recently been based on more state industrial policy - and this was for a long time frowned upon in Germany, unlike in France.
Berlin has meanwhile also signed Macron's demand that Brussels impose higher import duties on the Chinese companies subsidized by the state. On a Paris initiative, the EU members decided in 2019 to examine the strategic disadvantages if foreign investors want to take over European companies.
The fear of Chinese state capitalism and the climate crisis are promoting a shift from a market-oriented to a more state-oriented EU strategy: this is exactly what Macron had recommended from the start in order to create a Europe "that protects its citizens".
The EU becomes - where necessary - slightly protectionist and industrial policy for the digital-ecological restructuring of the economy. You could say: it is becoming more French.
This is also due to the fact that France's EU strategy has also become a little "German". Gradually the President learns that he is with leading from behind Learn more than by rushing ahead. That means: to stand behind the heads of state and government of smaller countries in order to discreetly lead them on the right track - like that before Helmut Schmidt of the Federal Republic of Germany and Angela Merkel often practiced.
As the Netherlands threatened to block the EU budget as long as the authoritarian Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán rejects the rule of law enforcement mechanism - or as Denmark suggested introducing a CO₂ border tax, Paris was behind it in each case. It forges broad alliances across the east-west and north-south axes of the EU.
And even the “thrifty four” in the EU finally agreed that they had to pull out their checkbooks during the pandemic and practice European solidarity - instead of the one they once did in the euro crisis People's Republic of China invite investors to invest in Europe. This European cohesion, embodied by the EU development fund amounting to 750 billion euros, has stabilized the monetary union: Today nobody is betting on the collapse of the euro any more.
All of this is by no means solely due to Macron. But also.
4. "Macron is a pocket Napoleon"
Because French presidents appear so completely different from German chancellors, because they are the successors of kings, they are Napoleon comparisons always at hand in Germany: that was already at Nicolas Sarkozy so, even with dull Francois Hollande they could be heard - and again particularly often at Macron. But these comparisons are above all an expression of cultural irritation - and have nothing to do with reality, especially not in foreign policy.
Emmanuel Macron is indeed "Basta" -authoritarian like Gerhard Schröder was once, he is a master of the staging of power. In some foreign policy solo efforts, he shows himself more like a French than a European - for example, when he's offensive and alone on a "new beginning" with Russia urges.
But in truth Macron is not a supporter of French »neo-grandeur«, He does not dream of past colonial greatness. In his eyes, France should be strong in foreign policy - but the President and Commander-in-Chief is not a warrior. Macron considered the 2011 Libya campaign, which Sarkozy was instrumental in advancing and which Germany refused, to be a mistake. The military operation against Islamist militias in Mali it recently shrank massively and temporarily suspended it. Macron is the first President of the Fifth Republic to not approve a new assignment abroad.
Macron would like Europe from the security policy United States make you more independent. It angered him that Washington the Turkey and other authoritarian regimes in Europe's neighborhood. Even so, he knows that the US is his most important military partner. French frigates also recently patrolled the Strait of Taiwan and challenged China - and Paris referred to the close cooperation with the "strategic partner USA".
In terms of foreign policy, Macron may sometimes sound very French to German ears, but in reality he is extremely pragmatic.
5. "Macron is unpopular"
The German fear of the right-wing extremist Marine Le Pen entering the Elysée Palace is deep. Anyone who comes to Berlin from Paris is showered with questions: Why is Macron so unpopular? Will Le Pen come to power in next year's election?
This may also be due to the fact that reactionary and left-wing intellectuals like Michel Houellebecq, Virginie Despentes, Édouard Louis or the inevitable Didier Eribon have shaped the image of France for many Germans. They portray their homeland as a broken society and Macron as yesterday in the guise of the innovator.
But Germany would do well not to let writers and playwrights determine its image of France. It is true that Macron fueled social tensions in the country with his fearless reform course and arrogant remarks about protesters. But it is also true that the president mostly pushed through his reform plans - in contrast to his predecessors.
And above all, yellow vest protests and street riots do not mean that Macron is unpopular. Barely a year before the elections, it is surprisingly popular. His Popular values stand at 50 percent - that is exceptionally good by French standards. A year before the election date, Macron's predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy was 35 percent and François Hollande a paltry 21 percent - one was just voted out of office after a term, the other never came back.
So Macron has a good chance of his rebellious people confirming him in office next year. The Conservatives have recently won regional elections, but their previous candidates are lightweights. As things stand today, Macron is predicted to win over Marine Le Pen - with 54 to 60 percent of the vote, depending on the poll. In the past, French pollsters did not underestimate the popularity of right-wing extremists, they overestimated it.
Macron could very well stay with Germany for another five years. This is another reason why it is worth taking a second look at this stubborn and uncomfortable partner - who has proven to be extremely constructive on many issues.