France’s political kaleidoscope keeps spinning so fast that it’s hard to assign any probability to the likely finalists in the run-off on May 7. But non-party centrist candidate, Emmanuel Macron, who started off as a rank outsider, keeps rising in the polls and now stands a better chance of reaching the second round than any of the left-wing contenders. The bad news for Theresa May is that Macron takes a hard line on Brexit and has explicitly opposed a bespoke deal for the UK.
When he served as economy minister in Socialist President Francois Hollande’s government, Macron warned Britons ahead of the June 23 referendum that they would lose out in financial services, trade and border security if they voted to leave the EU. He now seems determined to make sure that will be the case.
The 39-year-old former investment banker with Banque Rothschild told the Guardian on a visit to London in September that UK-based financial services firms should no longer be able to sell their services freely across the European Union as they can while Britain is a member. In October, he told Bloomberg News that the UK could not expect any special privileges once it goes.
“I am attached to a strict approach to Brexit: I respect the British vote but the worst thing would be a sort of weak EU vis-a-vis the British,” he said. “I don’t want a tailor-made approach where the British have the best of two worlds.”
Among Macron’s advisers on EU affairs is French liberal MEP Sylvie Goulard, a strong European federalist who has argued – unsuccessfully so far – that British MEPs should be removed from all positions of responsibility in the European Parliament since the UK will not be bound by any of the laws the EU legislature passes after Brexit. Goulard opposed the concessions EU leaders made to David Cameron last year in a forlorn attempt to keep Britain in the bloc, including the largely rhetorical agreement to exempt the UK from the treaty goal of “ever closer union”.
Before the referendum, Macron argued that if Britain left the Union, it would have to guard its own border in Kent instead of the current arrangements under the bilateral Le Touquet agreement, under which French and British police work hand-in-hand on the French side of the Channel to prevent would-be illegal migrants from reaching the UK.
While the centrist candidate has not taken a detailed position on the future relationship between the EU and Britain, his general approach is similar to that of Hollande, who has insisted that Britain must not get a better deal for leaving the EU than it had as a member and must “pay a price” to deter any other countries contemplating withdrawal.
In a keynote speech in Berlin last month, in which he called for Franco-German initiatives to drive forward European integration in defence and in strengthening the euro zone, Macron mentioned Britain only once, saying its departure meant the EU’s combined defence spending would be even more feeble.
He is the most pro-European of all the declared candidates for the French presidency and would be likely to encourage Berlin to stick to a joint firm line towards London once the exit negotiations get under way.
For sure, another of Macron’s advisers, economist Jean Pisani-Ferry, co-authored a report last year suggesting a “continental partnership” that would tie Britain to the EU after Brexit, giving it some access to the European single market and some inter-governmental decision-making and enforcement of commonly agreed rules, although the EU would keep the final say. His fellow authors were German politician Norbert Roettgen, seen as close to Chancellor Angela Merkel, German economist Guntram Wolff of the Bruegel think-tank, Belgian economist Andre Sapir, a veteran EU adviser, and former Bank of England deputy governor Paul Tucker. However, their ideas were swiftly dismissed in Brussels and Paris as far too generous to the UK, and Macron has shown no sign of sharing them. For now, the proposal has died the death.
Edited by Hugo Dixon
From time to time we'll share exclusive interview clips (including never-seen-before footage), the most incisive blog posts and the most interesting dispatches from our event organisers as they take the europe debate to the furthest, biggest, smallest, weirdest, most unusual places around europe and beyond.