Re-election strengthens French Macron as a powerful player in the EU | Radio WGN 720

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PARIS (AP) — Shortly after his victory was announced, French President Emmanuel Macron took the stage to the sound of the European Union’s anthem, “Ode to Joy.” The symbolism was strong: the election of the 44-year-old centrist for a second term strengthens his position as a senior player in Europe.

Macron is now expected to push to strengthen the 27-nation bloc and give full weight to efforts to end the war in Ukraine.

In his victory speech on Sunday evening, he thanked the majority of French voters who chose him and pledged to carry out a project for “a stronger Europe”.

“Europe is a framework of peace and stability. It is our surest asset for today and tomorrow,” he said during an election rally in Strasbourg, the seat of the European Parliament. “Europe is what protects us from crises and wars.”

The departure of Angela Merkel in December after 16 years as German Chancellor, in addition to the UK’s exit from the bloc in 2020, has positioned Macron to play a dominant role in the EU, where the Franco-German relationship is essential.

Buoyed by his victory, Macron is in the spotlight during his planned visit to Berlin in the coming days to meet new chancellor Olaf Scholz, who made his low-key international debut. French presidents traditionally make their first post-election trip abroad to Germany to celebrate the countries’ friendship after several wars.

Ukraine will be high on the agenda for the meeting with Scholz, whose spokesman Steffen Hebestreit hailed Macron’s victory over far-right nationalist rival Marine Le Pen as “a good day for Europe”. Hebestreit added: “The French people made a good choice.

France holds the rotating presidency of the European Council until June 30. Macron is due to deliver a speech on Europe on May 9 in Strasbourg.

At some point, he may also travel to Kyiv to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Macron has long advocated for the EU to take more responsibility for its own defence, which he sees as complementary to the NATO alliance, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has only reinforce this argument.

Her victory “signifies the continuation of an ambitious project for Europe”, said Tara Varma, who heads the Paris office of the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank.

“He will advocate doubling down on the European sovereignty agenda: on technology, on defence, on fighting economic coercion,” she said.

Varma added that an upcoming Western Balkans conference to be held in June will provide “an opportunity to start rethinking EU enlargement policy”.

Georgina Wright, director of the Europe program at the Parisian think tank Institut Montaigne, said that “Europe will obviously continue to be a key and central pillar of Macron’s mandate. I suspect he wants to go further and faster than he has in the last five years.

However, he could encounter “delicate discussions” ahead, she said.

The introduction of a bloc-wide minimum wage, a carbon tax on imports and tax reform are among the main policies France wants to promote. France also wants to speed up talks on a stalled overhaul of the EU asylum system.

To achieve such progress on sensitive issues, Macron will have to seek international consensus among his counterparts.

“His challenge would be to get others to follow him,” Wright said. “He really needs to bring Germany on board.”

But challenges loom. Hungarian and Polish leaders, at odds with Brussels over their rule of law standards, have expressed strong disagreement with Macron in the past. Tensions with Britain over the post-Brexit deal and migrants crossing the Channel, meanwhile, are unlikely to subside.

“Macron will not have everything his way,” said Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform. “Some Central and Eastern European member states will oppose French policy, the British will remain a headache and the Germans could thwart some French ideas.”

Franco-German areas of divergence include key topics such as energy strategy. Macron is pushing to promote nuclear power as a way to become greener and more energy independent, while Scholz’s government plans to close Germany’s last nuclear power plants this year.

Germany is also expected to oppose a French proposal involving the use of shared EU debt for an investment plan to deal with the impact of war in Ukraine. The proposal is modeled on the unprecedented plan launched to get the bloc through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Macron could find a key ally in Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who has pushed for closer ties with Paris, including a pact signed with Macron in Rome last fall that aimed to make Italy and France the new engine of European cooperation.

In congratulatory remarks after Macron’s re-election, Draghi highlighted the role of both countries, “working side by side with all other partners” to build a stronger EU.

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Colleen Barry in Milan and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the French elections at https://apnews.com/hub/french-election-2022

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