Busy day for French president: Names PM, meets with Merkel
BERLIN (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron hit the ground running Monday on his first full day in office by naming a prime minister from the center-right and then flying to Germany, where he and Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged to work together to undertake European reforms.
At home, Macron started to shape his government by appointing relatively little-known lawmaker Edouard Philippe, 46, as his prime minister. That made good on a promise to repopulate French politics with new faces and reinforced the generational shift under Macron, who at 39 is France’s youngest president.
Then, a large crowd outside the chancellery welcomed Macron to Berlin, with some waving European Union flags. Macron and Merkel were all smiles inside, and the German leader declared that “Europe will only do well if there is a strong France, and I am committed to that.”
Germany and France have traditionally been the motor of European integration, but the relationship has become increasingly lopsided in recent years as France struggled economically.
German leaders were hugely relieved by the independent centrist’s rout of far-right rival Marine Le Pen in the May 7 presidential runoff, and now they hope that Macron can deliver the economic upturn that his predecessors couldn’t.
Macron is the conservative Merkel’s fourth French president in nearly 12 years as chancellor. Some media have dubbed the pair “Merkron” — a reference to the “Merkozy” moniker used for Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s conservative leader from 2007-12.
Merkel called for “new dynamism” in the countries’ relationship. She said she was “aware of the responsibility, at a very critical moment for the European Union, to take the right decisions together.”
The 28-nation EU faces complex divorce proceedings with Britain, its current No. 2 economy. When Britain leaves the bloc in 2019, France will be the EU’s only member with nuclear weapons and a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.
Macron made clear his determination to tackle his country’s problems.
“The French agenda will be an agenda of reform in the coming months, in economic, social and educational terms,” he said. “Not because Europe requests it, but because France needs it.”
France, he said, “is today the only big country in the European Union that, for more than 30 years, has not succeeded in beating the problem of mass unemployment.”
Macron also declared there needs to be “a Europe that protects our citizens better.” Together with Germany, he said, he wants to work on “a common road map for the European Union and the eurozone.”
Macron faces his first big test next month in legislative elections that will determine how far he is able to advance his reform agenda. He is the first president of modern France to come neither from the mainstream left nor the right parties.
Philippe, the mayor of the Normandy port of Le Havre, is a trained lawyer and an author of political thrillers. He is a member of the Republicans, a mainstream-right party whose candidate Macron beat in the first round of the election.
Philippe could possibly attract other Republicans to Macron’s cause. Alain Juppe, a former prime minister, called Philippe “a man of great talent” with “all the qualities to handle the difficult job.”
Macron also is siphoning off support from lawmakers on the left. At least 24 Socialists are now campaigning for re-election under the banner of Macron’s Republic on the Move party.
Merkel wished Macron luck in the legislative elections.
She held out the possibility of deep reform to the 19-nation eurozone if it is deemed necessary, saying she’s prepared to talk about changes to the EU treaties — a cumbersome and politically risky process.
“First we need to work on what we want to do, and then if it turns out it needs treaty changes, then we — or at least I — will be prepared to do that,” she said. European countries must not dig in their heels and say changes can never be made, she added, as “a European Union that behaves this way would be vulnerable from every corner of the world.”
Macron, for his part, reassured Germany that he wouldn’t revive the idea of jointly issued eurobonds, which divided Europe at the height of the eurozone debt crisis.
“I have never ... advocated what people call eurobonds,” the former investment banker and finance minister said. “I am not a promoter of mutualizing past debts.”
But he added: “what I know is that we have investments to make (in Europe), and so we have to work on investment mechanisms for the future.” He said that the eurozone to find ways to “inject new money” via public and private investment.
“I will always be a frank, direct and constructive partner, because I think the success of our two countries is deeply linked, and that the whole success of Europe depends on that,” Macron said.
Merkel, quoting German writer Hermann Hesse, said that “a magic dwells in each beginning.”
“Of course, this magic only remains if there are results,” she added. “We both know that.”
Associated Press writers John Leicester in Paris and David Rising in Berlin contributed.