May 8, 2017 / 11:21 AM / 3 months ago

Macron has bigger fish to fry than Brexit

2 Min Read

A British Union flag and an European Union flag are seen flying outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels

LONDON(Reuters Breakingviews) - Negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU is bound to guzzle Emmanuel Macron’s time and energy once he takes over as President of France. But knitting the euro zone closer together will be the task that consumes his political capital. Punishing or pleasing the UK will be an outcome, not an objective.

The independent centrist’s pro-European stance is welcome for Germany. Still, the relationship between the two founding EU members needs work. Some of Macron’s ambitions, such as creating a euro zone budget and finance minister, may be less than palatable to Europe’s biggest economy. Macron said during a visit to Berlin in March that France must show it can reform itself and respect Europe’s fiscal rules as a way of regaining trust.

The more effort Macron spends on strengthening Europe, the less there may be to deal with Britain. A key adviser to the incoming president said on Monday that no one had an interest in severing ties with the UK. That is not the same as taking an active role in ensuring future ties benefit both sides. Macron is more likely to deploy his credit by creating a Europe that works for France than using it to deliberately make Britain’s life easier or harder.

There is one thing Theresa May, his counterpart in Britain, has cause to worry about. Macron, as a former banker, may have a sense of what it takes to attract financial institutions. If French labour laws are reformed or red tape and corporate taxes cut enough to make Paris more appealing as a capitalist Mecca, London could have a problem. On the other hand, a more dynamic French economy is good news for the British one too. Macron will help shape Brexit but may not spend much time worrying about how.

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