Spanish Liberals Offer Support to Macron in Battle for Europe

  • Rivera says French election will shape Europe’s future
  • Macron, Rivera challenging dominance of two-party systems

Polls in France Underline New Political Momentum

Spanish liberals have met with officials from Emmanuel Macron’s movement in France to offer support in an election that will shape the future of the European Union, party leader Albert Rivera said.

“We mutually recognize our roles in Southern Europe,” Rivera, head of Ciudadanos, said in an interview in the Spanish parliament in Madrid Thursday. “We are willing to cooperate, help, support and whatever is needed from the political point of view. Europe not just France is at stake.”

Rivera led Ciudadanos into the Spanish parliament for the first time in 2015, opening a centrist space between the country’s two traditional parties by proposing a mixture of free-market reforms and controls on political corruption. Macron faces a similar challenge in France, where the Socialists and the center-right have dominated presidential elections since the start of the fifth republic in 1958.

With the French establishment set to be swept aside in this year’s election, polls show Macron is just behind anti-euro candidate Marine Le Pen for the first round on April 23 and that he would easily beat her in the May 7 run-off.

“France, as the heart of the Europe , is the center of the most important political battle in coming years,” Rivera said. “It’s not the same having a president in the Elysee who is liberal, progressive, modern and pro-European. Or Le Pen who is calling for an exit referendum.”

Macron, 39, is pledging to cut costs and bureaucracy to boost hiring, and promote investment in what he called the economy of the future. He plans to raise take-home pay through reductions in payroll taxes, unify France’s disparate pension systems and encourage labor negotiations at the company level, without raising the retirement age or cutting pensions.

Biggest Trade Partner

“Macron and his party stand by most of what the Liberal Democrats stand for,” said Rivera, whose Ciudadanos party is part of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, the third largest group in the European Parliament. “We would be very happy to have Macron as a companion in the Liberal Democrat group.”

Victory for Le Pen’s protectionist agenda could have serious consequences for Spain as France is its biggest trade partner, according to the Spanish National Statistics Institute, with almost 32 billion euros ($34 billion) of exports in the first ten months of 2016, twice the sales to U.K.

“We already have Brexit, so it’s key that France gives a different signal,” said Rivera, whose party has drawn up a plan to attract high-skilled workers from the U.S. and the U.K. as their governments take protectionist measures. “As Macron said, if Trump is closing the U.S. door, and May wants to expel professionals, open-minded countries like Spain or France have to open the door to that talent.”

Ciudadanos reached a deal with the governing People’s Party in October to allow Mariano Rajoy to take office for a second term in Spain following a 10-month impasse. Rivera opted to stay out of the government, having seen U.K. liberal Nick Clegg’s political career derailed by a coalition with David Cameron.

— With assistance by Mark Deen

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