The victory of France’s President-elect Emmanuel Macron is good news. If he stays true to his agenda, Mr. Macron’s reforms will stimulate hiring, investment and economic growth at home. Abroad, Mr. Macron will support NATO and the U.S.-led international order.
At least, that’s my take.
Others are toasting Mr. Macron’s victory for another reason: the European Union (EU). They believe he is the EU’s savior. The prize that unites western liberal elites, the EU is facing existential crises: debt, nationalism, Brexit. The future seems dark.
Seemed dark. Because now, the left believe, their savior is risen. At The New York Times, Roger Cohen declares that Mr. Macron’s victory will preserve “civilization” by saving the EU. Mr. Cohen is clear: “A federalizing Europe is the foundation of European postwar stability and prosperity.” Had Marine Le Pen won, Europe would have fallen into war.
On its face, this is simplistic silliness. Europe’s postwar peace takes root not in the EU’s many agencies, but in a continent of democracies that benefit from free trade, tourism and similar history books (a legacy of bloody wars).
Regardless, Mr. Macron is unlikely to save the EU from its flaws. For a start, the EU needs more than a young visionary. The EU’s functional weakness, after all, is not born of failed political imagination. Brexit critics often blame British politicians who supported remaining in the EU for failing to articulate the EU’s greatness. “If only,” they say, “you had explained to voters why the EU is so great and so bold and so noble, Britons would have voted to stay.” It’s arrogant self-delusion of the kind that afflicts Mr. Cohen and Co. Rather than consider why so many Britons chose to leave the EU, “remainer” advocates choose to blame the messenger. EU failings are left unresolved.
And that matters. Brexit and other anti-EU movements across the continent are motivated by very serious concerns. Fearing loss of national sovereignty, legal accountability and control over immigration, EU separatist voters won’t change their minds solely because Mr. Macron is young, good looking and passionate. This is politics, not pop music. And here’s the catch, even if Mr. Macron pushes for serious reform: The masters of the EU citadel, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, won’t play ball. Neither has shown much interest in EU structural reforms. Mr. Juncker is a fanatic for federalism and Ms. Merkel is distracted by the continental debt and refugee crises.
Yet structural reforms are crucial. To regain support from anti-EU voters across the continent, the EU would have to act boldly. First, it would have to reduce its bloated staff and inefficient expenditures. It would also have to simplify its organizational chart: a minefield of overlapping bureaucracies. Those agencies burn taxpayer money while issuing regulations that prevent effective private-sector growth.
Second, the EU would have to transfer greater authority back to national parliaments and away from Brussels and Strasbourg. This matters especially in regards to legal supremacy. The present supremacy of the EU Court of Justice (ECJ) over national parliaments fuels massive discontentment in national populations. That’s because the ECJ substitutes precedent-based jurisprudence for federal expansionism. And voters see the ECJ for what it is: a political mechanism, shielded from democratic authority, that systemically degrades national democracies. It is the definition of judicial activism.
Consider the EU’s response to these concerns: impudent anger.
Outlining his post-Brexit reform plans recently, for example, Jean-Claude Juncker promised to speed up the federal supremacy agenda. And Mr. Juncker was clear about uppity voters: “The future of Europe should not be hostage to elections, party politics or cries of triumph directed at domestic audiences.” Think on those authoritarian words. They speak of EU leaders hateful toward democratic accountability and obsessed by a singular mission. Unsurprisingly, they do little to inspire patience from EU-skeptics.
This is the EU Mr. Macron now joins. If he’s serious about reform, he has his work cut out.
• Tom Rogan is a columnist for National Review Online, a contributor to The Washington Examiner, and a former panelist on The McLaughlin Group.