The well-trodden road to Berlin: Hamon is third French candidate to meet with Merkel
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Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon is meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and new Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz in Berlin on Tuesday. It is a high stakes trip for the candidate, some polls now have running fifth in the French race.
After a visit to Portugal in February on the theme of left-wing unity, Hamon now heads to Germany. He is the third French presidential candidate to meet with Merkel during this campaign, after visits by the conservative François Fillon and independent centrist frontrunner Emmanuel Macron.
Marion Gaillard, a Franco-German relations specialist who teaches at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) says it is “a total novelty” and “noteworthy” that the chancellor is receiving French candidates other than the conservative nominee. According to Gaillard, the Socialist candidate’s proposals on the issue of Europe could well elicit constructive dialogue between the pair.
FRANCE 24: First Fillon, then Macron and now Hamon; what are French presidential candidates looking for when they visit the German chancellor in Berlin?
Marion Gaillard: Germany is an indispensable partner for France, especially if the next French president wants to revive the European project. So the candidates who go to meet the German chancellor are going to see what the terms of agreement between Paris and Berlin might be. In recent elections, tradition has had it that the conservative candidate would go meet Angela Merkel. So Nicolas Sarkozy went to Berlin during his campaigns in 2007 and 2012. However, it is a total novelty that she is meeting with other candidates and it is pretty noteworthy that she is doing so.
FRANCE 24: In your opinion, why is she doing it? What interest does she have in doing so?
In reality, I think she felt obliged to do it. She first met with Fillon, which is in the nature of things, but the two of them have real disagreements in their visions for Europe. With Macron’s surge in the polls and the consequences of Fillon’s scandal, she later found it opportune to meet with the En Marche! candidate [Macron], especially since there exists between Merkel and Macron an ideological similarity, whether it be on the refugee issue or on European integration. But, since she had broken with the rule once to meet Macron, she then announced that she was ready to receive any candidate who wished to meet her, with the exception of Marine Le Pen. Hamon seized on that opening.
FRANCE 24: It is hard to imagine what Hamon and Merkel could have to say to one another, isn’t it?
On the contrary, I think they will have a constructive dialogue. One must keep in mind that in terms of European integration, Germany has been abandoned by France since the mid-1990s. France is no longer a driver and it is no longer a force for proposals on the future of Europe. The leadership has been left to Germany. And in that context, Hamon, like Macron, is making concrete proposals. The eurozone parliament that Hamon is proposing is not likely to please Merkel in principle, but it is a clear proposal that he is putting on the table. His ideas on the democratisation of the European Union, on European defence and on the migrant question can interest the German chancellor. With Hamon and Macron, it is the first time in 25 years that France has presidential candidates proposing something other than the idea of a state-based Europe. From the German perspective, that is very positive because the EU must be revitalised.
FRANCE 24: Isn’t the main thing at stake during Hamon’s visit his meeting with the new leader of the SPD, Martin Schulz?
That is indeed very important for the Socialist candidate, notably because Schulz’s predecessor, Sigmar Gabriel, expressed his delight last week at the prospect of a Macron victory in France. So Hamon will try to get Schulz on board, knowing that official support from him would bring additional international credibility. Hamon is not very well supported within his own camp in France. He is accused of not being realistic, of having utopian proposals, so it would be a real success for him to be appointed by the German centre-left’s candidate. Of course, that wouldn’t necessarily change much for the majority of French voters, but for a particular electorate that is hesitating to choose between Hamon and Macron, that recognition could be significant.
This article has been translated from the original in French.