Europe

Emmanuel Macron's charm offensive in Brussels debut

French President Emmanuel Macron leaves the European Council, in Brussels Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Macron attended his first meeting of the European Council

An enormous smile on the red carpet. A flirtatious wink for the BBC's political editor. Emmanuel Macron laid on the charm from the second he stepped out of his limo at his first meeting of the European Council in Brussels.

At the president's mid-summit press conference, French journalists fought each other for the microphone to ask him a question. Everyone else just took pictures on their phones.

He wooed the EU, saying it was "a pleasure" being there, "to look at so many subjects that are dear to me."

The German newspaper Der Spiegel called him "The Summit Conqueror". "Macronmania" was the word used by others.

In the build-up to these talks, Brussels officials pointed to Mr Macron's election as proof that voters still believed in the EU.

"It's a return to the time of Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel," said one diplomat, referring to the duopoly that has often dominated the European Union.

"It's better than just having Chancellor Merkel running things on her own," he added.

The double act was sealed with a joint press conference at the end of the summit. It was standing-room only.

"When France and Germany disagree, then Europe cannot progress," he said.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The German-French duopoly has often dominated the EU

It left journalists pondering what to call them: Merckron or Macrel? Although some commentators felt the Frenchman struck a more protectionist tone than Mrs Merkel, who spoke approvingly of upcoming EU trade deals.

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani observed Mr Macron's first encounter with his 27 counterparts.

"He's a highly intelligent man, at ease with the other leaders. But charm isn't an issue. They're politicians," he told the BBC.

And Mr Macron is being taught the realities of summit life.

His comments about an influx of eastern European workers being one of the causes of the UK's vote to leave the EU prompted a diplomatic row with some of his colleagues.

"Poland is open to co-operation but it depends on Macron what it will look like: whether he will want to show off his hostility to eastern Europe in the media or have a fact-based discussion," said the Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo.

And it looks like Mr Macron's big idea of giving the EU powers to block some foreign investment in sensitive areas of the European economy will be watered down.

"It's been downgraded," said one diplomatic source.

In Brussels Mr Macron is learning that the smile and the winks only get him so far.

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