Macron arrives at first EU summit with proposals on eurozone, defence

French President Emmanuel Macron attended his first European Union summit on Thursday. The newly elected head of state has pledged to breathe new life into the EU - exactly one year after the UK voted to leave the EU.

Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel at a NATO summit on 25 May 2017.
Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel at a NATO summit on 25 May 2017. Reuters/Hannibal Hanschke

Macron has been hailed as a hero who has halted the rise of populism in Europe.

But the newly elected French president didn't arrive in Brussels empty-handed. It helped that he came with a set of pro-European proposals aimed at jump-starting the EU.

Since the beginning of Macron's term in office last month, diplomats have also been praising him for restarting the Franco-German motor of Europe.

He visited Chancelor Angela Merkel right after his election victory.

"There's a new window of opportunity for the Franco-German relationship," says Joseph Janning, the head of the European Council on Foreign Relations office in Berlin. "In the past year it had been weaker that it could have been. The relationship rests on the ability of both sides to take initiatives [...] and Macron has announced [new reforms] which means France will become a much more important player in Europe."

Increase in military cooperation

Emmanuel Macron is putting forward several proposals with the aim, he says, of jumpstarting the European project.

Earlier this month a Franco-German blueprint for the creation of a European defence fund was unveiled. The fund will have an annual budget of 5.5 billion euros and would finance joint military hardware projects and research.

"Certainly this is a major innovation," says Andrea Frontini, an analyst with the European Policy Centre. "It breaks a taboo concerning EU's reluctance to fund defence-oriented research. This might have wide-ranging implications for the future of European defence integration."

Eurozone reform

The French president also wants to reform the eurozone.

During his campaign he proposed that the zone should have a finance minister and a parliament.

"He didn't give a lot of details," says Gregory Claeys, an economist with Brugel. "You could have a finance minister that's quite powerful, with the power of raising taxes which would make him powerful. It depends what he wants to do."

Making sure the 19 nations that use the euro agree on this will be tough.

The good news is that Germany seems to be on board. 

But Angela Merkel's support will come at a price.

"There's a number of ideas floating in Berlin and they're not incompatible with [Macron's ideas]," says Josef Janning. "From a Berlin perspective, Macron will have to deliver first on the domestic agenda. [...] First deliver reforms in France and then win momentum for reforms in Europe."

Macron's charm has not swept all before it, however.

EU leaders are already fighting his push to give the bloc more powers to control Chinese investments in Europe.

They fear here is that France might revert to protectionism.

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