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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Liberal internationalists heralded Emmanuel Macron’s landslide in the French presidential election as a nearly decisive victory for their globalist vision over populist sentiments rippling through Europe and symbolized by Brexit and Donald Trump — they shouldn’t.

The high unemployment, economic inequality and terrorist threats that inspire protectionism, political disaffection and anti-immigrant impulses in France and elsewhere have hardly subsided. Mr. Macron must quell those by firing up growth and improving personal security on the streets of Paris, or Ms. Le Pen will be back in five years — and with a much better shot at winning.


Like America, globalization has created severely disparate societies in Europe. Thanks to free trade and free movement of people among the 28 EU member states, Paris is prospering, but smaller French cities like Albi, Beziers and Vierzon suffer too few jobs, shuttered businesses, drug dealing and decaying civic institutions. As in Reading Pa., and other interior communities that voted for Mr. Trump, import competition and technological change have rendered workers redundant and their skills obsolete.

Like America, politicians have applied palliatives — ever more generous welfare spending — that discourage workers from retraining and relocating to compete more effectively with hungry immigrants. And those programs siphon off tax dollars from critically needed investments in infrastructure and education.

Mr. Macron advocates cutting health care and unemployment benefits and spending $53 billion more on new investments, but he must deal with an unruly legislature.

Mr. Macron leads a movement more than a party. To win an electoral majority outright, En Marche must field candidates in the National Assembly’s 577 districts for the June 11 and 18 elections. Failing to win a majority or sizable plurality to lead a coalition, he would be forced into cohabitation — an arrangement where the president and prime minister in the National Assembly are from different parties.

Three times French presidents have labored under such an arrangement. From 1997 to 2002, conservative French President Jacques Chirac was saddled with Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin who pursued decidedly more statist policies like a 35-hour work week.

Many French voters are ambivalent about Mr. Macron’s agenda, cast ballots for him to keep Ms. Le Pen from capturing the government and would be happy to see cohabitation and his reform agenda stifled. Hence, prospects are not good for a sweeping En Marche victory.

Much of what Mr. Macron wants to accomplish will rely on reforming EU institutions, too. He would like Brussels empowered to also spend more on infrastructure, and stronger EU bank regulation, deposit insurance and capacity to secure borders and combat terrorism.

The latter is essential for defusing political unrest on the continent, because the EU’s easy movement of would-be terrorists among countries makes securing public safety terribly difficult for national governments.

Much of this would require empowering Brussels to issue euro-denominated bonds, and all of it would require the consent and financial backing of Germany, the EU’s largest economy.

While Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government may be moved to support a greater EU-wide security capability, it is justifiably skeptical of Mr. Macron’s ability to alter France’s statist economic management and roll back its welfare state. And it is quite comfortable with EU members following common rules but wants to keep national taxpayers money separate.

German voters simply don’t want to empower Brussels to tax them to finance profligate spending in France or anywhere else in Europe.

All this bodes poorly for a united Europe. Any international economist worth his salt will tell you monetary union and the kind of ambitious economic integration that a common currency requires is not possible without fiscal union — namely, giving Brussels the authority to tax, spend and issue debt.

Ms. Le Pen may have garnered only 34 percent of the vote this time, and populist movements have suffered a string of defeats since Mr. Trump’s upset victory — most notably in Austria and the Netherlands. All seems to be selling similar ideas — stronger national governments and opposition to the EU, free trade, immigration and globalization.

Even if they are not winning elections yet, what matters is that they have reached critical mass. Unless Mr. Macron can implement radical domestic reforms and persuade Germany to cede more fiscal authority to Brussels, he will fail.

Then enter Marine Le Pen, others and the likely breakup of the EU.

• Peter Morici is an economist and business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.


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