1. For whom the bell tolls in Germany
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When French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron visited Berlin in March, he spared a thought for the newborn daughter of his friend Sigmar Gabriel — by hand-delivering a stuffed toy rabbit to the German foreign minister.
The gesture may have oversold the personal bond between two very different men. But it also illustrated just how carefully Macron, the favorite to win the presidential election, labored throughout his campaign to court influential friends and allies in Germany and across the European Union.
This was the context into which Macron launched his first plea for eurozone reform. With his German Social Democrat counterpart Gabriel (then minister for economic affairs and energy), the young minister published a series of op-eds arguing that Europe needed to carry out reforms urgently, or face its unraveling.
Amid hand-wringing over Greece, the unlikely duo — Macron is slender, tight-suited and fast-talking; Gabriel is heavyset, plainly dressed and ponderous — pressed their case at various hastily arranged press conferences at which they waxed lyrical about the need for closer integration.
“So long as our leaders believe that Europe can be managed day-to-day without a stronger legal framework and always in a reactive way, we will have a ‘Brexit’ and a ‘Grexit’ and tomorrow others will be looking for a way out,” Macron told journalists in one encounter at a luxury Paris hotel.
The response from Macron and Gabriel’s bosses was silence. But as it turned out, the two economy ministers were right. A year later, Britain had voted to leave the European Union. Greece was stumbling from one funding crisis to the next.
And Macron, increasingly frustrated at his government’s lack of reformist drive, was preparing to leave Hollande’s cabinet to launch En Marche (On the Move), the independent centrist political movement he hopes will carry him into the Élysée presidential palace.
Gabriel and Macron failed to pull off any political victories, and the effort lost its mojo. But Macron had succeeded in one respect: He had made a name for himself in Germany. Addressing German ambassadors in Berlin, he won over a crowd by vowing to put an end to the “religious wars” that divided stern and thrifty Northern Europe from the free-spending, solidarity-minded South
Germany rolls out red carpet
In March of this year, Europe was once again on a cliff-edge — and Macron was in the center of the action. As France hurtled toward a national election, his Euroskeptic, pro-Kremlin rivals were sharing nearly 50 percent of the vote between them. If the Greek crisis debt crisis had been a warning to Europe, this was a bright-red alarm screaming in the cockpit.
With the EU’s future on the ballot, Macron traveled to Berlin just a few weeks after conservative candidate François Fillon had paid a visit to the German chancellery. Normally Fillon would have been Merkel’s most natural choice for a French partner, given their shared conservatism.
But the former prime minister had become embroiled in a scandal over disputed payments that threatened to derail his candidacy.
So it was Macron, not Fillon, who was looming large as Germany’s best hope for France. Merkel met him en privé, but the curtains in the chancellor’s office were left open during their meeting, allowing photographers to document the occasion — as much as Berlin protocol would allow to show favor for a foreign candidate running for office.