From Germany's viewpoint, France's runoff election is a date with destiny. A victory for Marine Le Pen would be a catastrophe for Berlin. However, Emmanuel Macron may not be a walk in the park, either.
In less than a year's time, German politics have had to contend with two shocking events: Brexit and Donald Trump. No one in Berlin wants to imagine a scenario in which Marine Le Pen wins Sunday's presidential runoff election in France. That could spell the end of France's participation in the eurozone and the EU entirely. It could mean the breaking point for what has taken generations to build. Brexit seriously damaged the European Union, but the EU would be unimaginable without France.
Polls have Emmanuel Macron out front, which is no cause for comfort for Berlin, given similar polling ahead of the Brexit referendum and the U.S. election, which turned out to be wrong. The anxiety has led Chancellor Angela Merkel to chime in: "It is and remains of course up to French voters, which I won't interfere with,"she told the "Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger" newspaper, "But I would be glad to see Emmanuel Macron win because he is pro-European.”
The French in Germany
"I want much more Europe, and I want it with Germany," Macron said at Berlin's Humboldt University in January, when he was still an underdog in the campaign. "I trust Germany.”
Macron visited Merkel in March at the Federal Chancellery, as had the conservative candidate, Francois Fillon, and socialist candidate, Benoit Hamon. Merkel was a supporter of Fillon before he was snarled by a fake job scandal.
Marine Le Pen also visited Germany – not to see Merkel but to attend a conference of European right-wing populists in Koblenz. Her low opinion of Merkel is no secret; during the campaign, Le Pen said she had no interest in being "Merkel's vice chancellor" and accused Macron of wanting to "deliver" France to Germany on a silver platter. His perceived coziness with German leaders has been a tricky balancing act throughout the campaign.
Frauke Petry of the AfD met with Marine Le Pen in Koblenz earlier this year. Hers is the only party in Germany that would celebrate a National Front victory
Berlin's beloved Frenchman
With just Macron and Le Pen left, the choice is clear: Everyone but the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is for Macron, including Germany's Left. In advance of the first round of voting, Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel of the Social Democrats (SPD) spoke in favor of Macron, not the socialist Hamon, calling Macron the "true social democrat.”
Macron is "Germany compatible,"said Claire Demesmay, a France expert with the German Council on Foreign Relations. He is favored by Germany's government because "he is closely aligned to Germany's Europe policy, as well as Schengen and the euro. There is also a lot of overlap on major global issues like Russia, Syria or free trade.”
From Berlin's perspective, Macron is the "only man who can help us keep the EU together," said Almut Möller of the European Council of Foreign Relations.
Germany and France: Parent and child
As president, Macron may be a constructive partner for Germany, but he will likely be far from a yes-man. He is for a common European budget, which is a nonstarter for Berlin. The former minister of economy is also is also critical of Germany's trade surplus and finds German investment too low. Nevertheless, he does not "resent" Germany, said Sylvie Goulard, a liberal MEP. During the campaign, he was the only candidate to support Merkel's refugee policy and consider Germany an economic model to follow.
A Macron victory will be a sigh of relief for Germany, which has long admonished France for its financial decisions and handling of its economic affairs. The sense that Germany was lecturing other nations was recently addressed by Foreign Minister Gabriel, writing recently in the French daily, Le Monde, that Germany must again be an "honest broker" in European affairs and avoid appearing like an "arrogant school master." His statements could serve to smooth over relations with France as well as lend support to Emmanuel Macron in a decisive presidential election.