While commemorating WWI, Macron auditions to be the leader of Europe

PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron will be out for the role of Europe leader this weekend.

Macron will have an opportunity to show you the best of all of the world's best friends. .

France's young president, just 40 years old, has long advocated a stronger, reinvigorated European Union and regularly condemned nationalism across the continent. He stands ready to continue the fight now that the German Chancellor Angela Merkel has signed her.

Macron than to boost his standing.

Said "Dominique Moïsi, a foreign policy analyst at the Institut Montaigne in Paris and the former Macron campaign adviser.

Said Mark Leonard, director of the London-based European Council on Foreign Relations. These segments are multiplying along an increasing number of fractures, he said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have worked together to encourage a united Europe. (Michael Kappeler / picture alliance via Getty Images)

"There is a clear north-south division over the euro crisis," he said. "You also have highly polarized societies in the United States."

Perhaps the biggest question for Macron's position in Europe is what will happen after Merkel leaves office.

The German chancellor has announced she will not seek reelection as chairman of her political party next month or as Germany's leader when her term ends in 2021.

Merkel has been a constant of European politics since she was hired in 2005, outlasting many of her opponents abroad.

Without her, Macron will have less competition as the dominant player in Europe, but he will also lose a key political ally.

The Franco-German alliance has been called the "motor" of the E.U., the central connection without which the entire European machine would cease to function. Many of the E.U.'s recent successes have depended on productive partnerships across the Rhine: Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterand in the 1980s and 1990s, Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, dubbed "Merkozy," in the early 2010s.

Macron and Merkel, too, have had at the end of the partnership. United States – notably his plans for further economic integration. But she has been a tireless defender of the E.U. since before Macron emerged onto the scene. He will probably leave Macron on his own in the defense of an "ever greater" union.

"The center does not really hold in the same way that it did," Leonard said. "It looks more like a Franco-German bunker than a motor."

Even if Merkel is succeeded by someone with a similar ideology, that person undoubtedly would bring less clout.

"France is a very important [E.U.] Leonard added, member state, but not strong enough on its own.

On the world stage, Macron has already had many disappointments. Despite his efforts to woo President Trump, he watched helplessly as the United States withdrew from the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal. The summit of the French President by attending the ceremony but skipping the peace summit this weekend.

Within France, Macron has successfully pushed through a host of reforms designed to liberalize to famously regulated labor markets and to stimulate economic growth. But he has paid a heavy price in popularity. According to a poll from Ifop, a leading French polling agency, its approval rating is at 29 percent, less than half of what it was when he was elected in May 2017.

By contrast, Europe's leading nationalist voices, which Macron has publicly challenged on any number of occasions, remain quite popular. Matteo Salvini, Italy's interior minister and de facto leader, enjoys an approval rating of 59 percent.

"He's weakened by the fact that he's orphaned by Merkel," said Moïsi. "And he's weakened by the spectacular fall of his popularity."

A separate Ifop poll, published on Sunday, shows that Macron's party, La Republique en Marche ("Republic on the Move"), has less support than France's far-right Rassemblement National ("National Rally") in advance of the 2019 European parliamentary elections.

"In a way, the summit opens this weekend, it's a bit too late for him," Moïsi of the Institut Montaigne said.

Macron, nonetheless, has focused on the resurgence of populist tribalism in Europe and the importance of political integration, which he credits with guaranteeing European prosperity and peace.

In a number of rare interviews, he has appealed to the darkest chapters of Europe's recent history to underscore his anxieties about its present.

"I'm struck to see two things that resemble terribly the 1930s," Macron told France's Europe 1 radio. "The fact that our Europe was rocked by a profound economic and financial crisis … and the rise of nationalisms that play on fears."

The point, he said, is to recognize the fragility of the European enterprise launched after the two world wars.

"We need a strong Europe, one that protects," he said.

The question is how many of his guests agree.

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