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BRUSSELS: Freshly elected French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are the new power couple leading the charge against anti-European populists and trying to put the struggling EU back on track, analysts say.

French legislative elections in June could endorse Macron's message of change, giving him a real power base, while the long-serving Merkel faces polls in September that she is expected to win handsomely.

Visiting Berlin on Monday, Macron "did not push for major, ambitious reforms (of the EU) because he knows the chancellor cannot deliver until the elections in September," said Judy Dempsey of the Carnegie Europe think-tank.

For the moment, she will be happy to see Macron live up to his promises of reform, especially at home where public spending needs to be brought under control and the labour market freed up.

Merkel has many times before pressed Macron's predecessors Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy for the changes needed to lift France's underperforming economy out of the doldrums.

The chancellor had the good fortune to benefit from the painful reforms her Social Democrat predecessor Gerhard Schroeder introduced.

This year, unemployment in Germany, Europe's biggest economy, should be around 4.0 percent, compared with 9.9 percent in France, according to the latest European Commission forecasts.

"Before thinking about reform of the EU, France has to restore its partners' confidence in it and provide guarantees on the budget," said Charles de Marcilly of the Robert Schuman Foundation.

"If you speak to the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Irish, they all think that France has to do its bit now, like they had to," said Dempsey, who has written a biography of Merkel.

France's budget deficit -- the shortfall between government spending and revenue -- has long breached the EU limit of 3.0 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

Given several reprieves by Brussels, the Commission expects the French public deficit to still be above the limit at 3.2 percent next year.

Germany in marked contrast will show a surplus of 0.3 percent.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Press), 2017
 

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