In his victory speech Sunday after being elected France’s next president, Emmanuel Macron made an unusual promise for a national leader: “I will work to mend the bond between Europe and its peoples.” Indeed, if Mr. Macron’s mandate from French voters means anything, it is that trust across the Continent must be rebuilt after 60 years of trying to form a European identity.
The 28-member European Union is hardly unraveling. But it certainly is under strain. Britain, its second-largest economy, is leaving. Greece, whose lies about its debt triggered the Continent’s 2008 financial crisis, still falters as a partner. EU states differ over how to counter Russian aggression, share the burden of settling refugees, or change bureaucratic rules that impinge on daily life. And many of the 19 states in the eurozone are violating a basic rule on fiscal discipline.
Despite those divisions, two-thirds of Europeans consider themselves to be citizens of the EU, according to a poll last year. Trust in the EU is higher than trust in most national governments. Like Macron himself, Europeans can easily adapt to multiple identities – either as a nation or the EU – as long as those institutions share common values and rights.
Macron knows his first task is to reform a France where 25 percent of youth are unemployed and where government spending eats up 57 percent of the gross national product. To do that, his fledgling centrist party, En Marche! (Forward!) will need to win an election in June for a new French Parliament.
He admits that economic reform in France is needed to win the trust of the EU’s other major partner, Germany. “There is a French responsibility to fix the situation,” he says. Only then can the EU tackle its needed reforms. He likens the union as a “half-pregnancy” in achieving the mission of an integrated Europe.
Macron was elected in part because he has said a politician must constantly earn the trust of voters. France’s longtime ruling parties lost the trust of voters in this election, as did the anti-EU National Front of Marine Le Pen. Having correctly defined the key issue for both France and the EU as broken trust, he now enters the Élysée Palace as a president eager to fix it.