Emmanuel Macron’s victory over his far-right rival Marine Le Pen in France’s presidential election generated a sigh of relief. Europe however still has a number of land mines to avoid before it can exit high-risk territory.
Macron was a great solution churned up by the French establishment which is well aware of the country’s problems and the aggressive disposition of the financial markets. Macron, a man well versed in the country’s deep state, came across as an anti-systemic candidate to win the election.
But the wager has not been won yet. France needs to carry out reforms and difficult adjustments. But France is resistant to change and French officials admit that “if we had attempted to introduce reforms of the same magnitude, we would have relived the storming of the Bastille.”
Macron’s election has rekindled hopes of a rebirth of the Franco-German axis – something that the EU misses these days. To a certain degree Berlin wants to share out the burdens of European leadership, and Macron seems an ideal candidate for this.
In any case, the future of Europe will be decided in France and, of course, Italy in the coming months. And financial markets are waiting around the corner. Matteo Renzi’s election in Italy and, now, Macron’s have so far served as a bulwark. But we will have to wait another couple of years.
But Europe is also faced with another challenge: security. Other global players don’t think much of Europe’s soft power while it has a clear deficit in terms of hard power. Next to a US or Russian envoy, their European counterparts are often perceived as representatives of some big NGO. The US is ambivalent whether it should continue to shelter the – somewhat spoiled – Europeans under its security umbrella. Meanwhile, Russia’s strategic confidence is growing, as China keeps acquiring infrastructure and influence “below the radar.”
At the moment, Europe does not appear capable of raising its game – it’s hard to see how without Britain. Only a major security incident will serve as a reality check for Europeans. Whether Europe has the power and willingness to guarantee its members’ security is a question that concerns us as well, since we are on the West’s frontline.