Macron Flexes Muscle in France as He Demands EU Protect Workers

  • French president-elect has highlighted Poland, Hungary
  • Germany politicians debate how to respond to Macron election

President-elect Emmanuel Macron is imposing his authority on the French political class as he begins to stake out his plans for Europe.

Macron on Wednesday rejected an offer of support from former Prime Minister Manuel Valls, his boss in the Francois Hollande government less than a year ago, as he shifted focus to push for more worker protections at the European level.

“In the five coming years, I’ll fight so that everywhere in the European Union our freedoms and fundamental rights are scrupulously respected,” Macron said late Tuesday in a video released on social media. “We also need a Europe that protects -- that protects workers, employees, protects craftsmen as well as academics.”

The remarks were Macron’s first since his victory speeches on Sunday night and underline his determination to refashion European political discussion as the continent moves beyond its sovereign-debt crisis and looks ahead to life as 27-nation bloc after the U.K. leaves.

French bond spreads have almost halved since Macron won the first round of the presidential election on April 23. The extra yield investors demand to hold French 10-year bonds instead of German bunds fell by 1 basis point at 11:45 a.m. on Wednesday to 42 basis points.

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Germans Divided

The 39-year-old president-elect’s European views are already sparking debate in Germany. As politicians in Europe’s biggest economy gear up for their own national elections in September, Bild newspaper ran a headline Tuesday asking “How much will Macron cost us?” Germany’s Social Democrats have struck the opposite pose, saying Macron’s arrival requires a new approach.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel set the tone in a statement eight minutes after polls closed in France on Sunday, saying “the time of financial orthodoxy and finger-wagging must finally end.” Merkel, responding at a Monday news conference, said Germany is ready to help “wherever possible” but France needs to take the lead in overhauling its economy.

Macron is due to meet Merkel next week after his inauguration on May 14.

For Macron, the European question is both a matter of conviction and political necessity. A turning point in his campaign was a confrontation with workers at a French Whirlpool factory that is being shut down so that production can be moved to lower-cost Poland.

“We cannot have a Europe that debates budgetary questions to a decimal place and then do nothing about member countries that behave like Poland or Hungary,” he said in an interview published in La Voix du Nord newspaper the day after his visit. “We can’t have a country that exploits the disparities in taxes and social security contributions within the European Union while also breaching the principles of the union.”

‘No Recycling’

Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo’s government has repeatedly clashed with the EU over democratic standards and dismissed recommendations made by the bloc over how to restore a functioning constitutional court. Szydlo has promised to take Poland, the biggest net recipient of EU aid, out of what she called the “European mainstream” and pursue its national interests in Brussels. Her government rejected Macron’s charges.

At home Macron has also vowed to renew politics. With that in mind, his party rejected Valls’s request to stand for parliament under its banner. Macron served as a minister in Valls’s Socialist government for two years through August 2016.

“Our mission is not to recycle politics, our mission is to create a new political offering,” Jean-Paul Delevoye, head of the party’s selection committee said Wednesday on Europe 1 radio. Valls doesn’t meet the criteria to be a candidate for Republic on the Move, Macron’s party, he said.

The party has already chosen about 500 of the 577 candidates and plans to publish a full list Thursday. Macron has said that half the candidates will be women and half will be new to politics office holders.

Jean-Luc Melenchon, who missed out on the presidential runoff by 620,000 votes, said his France Unbowed movement has failed to reach an accord with the Communist Party and will present its own full slate of candidates in the parliamentary election. He’s likely to run for a seat in Marseille, he told RMC Radio.

— With assistance by Fabio Benedetti Valentini

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