EU-skeptic parties in France and Britain were the winners in the EU elections. In their search for answers, the two countries' leaders, President Hollande and Prime Minster Cameron, have come up with contrary solutions.
France and Great Britain work well together. In military matters, the cooperation between Paris and London runs smoothly. The two nuclear powers are in the same boat. After the EU election this also applies - at least theoretically - to another issue: in both countries right-wing populists gained the best results Europe-wide, putting both governments in dire straits.
The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) with its charismatic leader Nigel Farage will send 24 representatives to the new EU Parliament. Prime Minister Cameron's ruling conservatives won only 19 seats.
In France, the situation is even more dramatic: the right-wing National Front of Marine Le Pen took 24 seats - eleven more than the ruling Socialists. London and Paris are now searching for political answers to these landslide victories, but the solutions couldn't be more different.
Same threat - different answers
“We need change in Europe,“ said Cameron. For the conservatives change means: “Europe should concentrate on what matters, on growth and jobs. We need an approach that recognizes that Brussels has got too big, too bossy, too interfering.” Cameron's demand: Europe only where necessary. And that means, the prime minster indicates, much less EU than before.
Cameron needs allies and advocates implementing his program, preferably in the EU Commission. Even if Cameron is not saying it openly on this particular evening, he wants to prevent Jean-Claude Juncker, who now advocates even closer cooperation in Europe, from becoming president of the EU Commission. “We need people in the leadership who will be working for a Europe which is open, competitive and flexible - and not about the past.”
Cameron is not the only one calling for change, growth and more jobs. French President Francois Hollande is advocating the same, but Hollande wants to give the future EU Commission president a job description that has little to do with Cameron's concept.
While Cameron has put his trust in market forces, Hollande wants to protect his country from them: “I want the mandate for this Commission to focus on growth, employment and energy - and more protection.”
All want more growth - but how?
The right-wing populists in France won the election on a platform that condemned globalization and the EU and propagated the return to a sovereign nation state. But Hollande does not want to curtail the influence of the EU, he wants to give it even more responsibilities for solving the problems in his own country.
“If one-in-four voters in France, a founding member of the EU, votes for the extreme right, then we have a problem. But it is not only a problem for France, it is a problem for Europe,” Hollande said. This is why he wants to continue what he has tried since the beginning of his term: to give Europe a new direction - for more growth, he said.
It did not become clear at Tuesday's summit (27.05.2014) how a new initiative for more growth would look like and how it could be financed. Hollande has rejected more debt and looser budgetary policies for his country.
Instead, he talks about more investment in new technologies and the diversification of energy sources in Europe. How this could help alleviate French unemployment is not clear. For Emiliano Grossman, a political analyst in Paris, this uncertainty is the president's key problem. “There haven't been any clear proposals from France for a long time on what direction Europe should take,” he said.
Merkel as mediator?
Although his growth strategy remains nebulous, Hollande is firmly committed to another matter. Unlike Cameron, the French president does not want to redefine and redraw European institutions. “We don't need changes to the contract,” he said. And he leaves no doubt about the policy orientation of his country: “France is Europe. And Europe cannot live and cannot move forward without France.”
More Europe or less Europe: France and Britain have contradictory answers to the rise of EU-skeptics in their countries. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has to cooperate closely with both countries, will have to mediate between the second and the third biggest country in the European Union.
Unlike Hollande and Cameron, at least Merkel has cautiously defined her position on the question of who gets the EU Commission job. As a member of the European People's Party group she has stated: “Jean-Claude Juncker is our frontrunner for president of the EU Commission.”