A magic dwells in each beginning,” Angela Merkel said after hosting Emmanuel Macron, the new French president, on Monday, quoting Herman Hesse. A warm embrace drew a line under an election which no doubt relieved the German chancellor by delivering a winner intent on saving the EU.
But, she added: “The magic lasts only when there are results.” Mr. Macron is, after all, not the first new arrival from Paris to come bearing plans for a reformed eurozone and a refreshed Franco-German relationship before domestic difficulties eventually caught up with their promises.
There were echoes of Ms. Merkel’s rendez-vous with past French newcomers, as the two leaders underlined the need to shore up employment, investment and collaboration on security, foreign policy and migration. Mr. Macron also wades into a jungle of German unease towards European fiscal integration.
Describing the euro as “incomplete”, President Macron laid out his plans to save the monetary union, including a eurozone budget and joint finance minister. German alarm bells are ringing: voters were split over his plans, according to a poll in news magazine Der Spiegel, which called him an ‘Expensive Friend’ (‘Teurer Freund’).
Nonetheless, Mr. Macron was greeted by a cheering crowd and the German government is now taking a more conciliatory tone towards someone who it sees as having saved the EU from possible annihilation under Marine Le Pen.
Mr. Macron raised the prospect of treaty change - an exhausting process denied to David Cameron when he tried to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the EU - saying it was no longer “taboo” in France. From the German point of view, Ms. Merkel revealed, this would be “possible… if it makes sense”.
She was, however, also keen to apply the brakes, not least because she faces reelection in September. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, while careful not to rule out Macron’s proposals in recent interviews with Der Spiegel and La Repubblica, argued that treaty change is not currently “realistic”.
On his part, Mr. Macron wanted to display his pragmatism. "I am not a promoter of the mutualisation of old debt" within the eurozone, he reassured his audience, though he left open the question of future debt.
“Whether Germany will treat Mr. Macron as an equal or will Macron play second fiddle to his German counterpart will depend on the French President’s capacity to deliver on his promise to modernise the French economy by improving its institutions and ignite growth,” Iakov Frizis, an economist at the Warsaw-based Centre for Social and Economic Research, told The World Weekly.
If Mr. Macron cannot make headway with his domestic reforms, Ms. Merkel’s magic may start to dwindle.