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Multi-summit Macron burns energy in hunt for results

French President Emmanuel Macron leaves after a group photo on the launching of the Permanent Structured Cooperation, or PESCO, a pact between 25 EU governments to fund, develop and deploy armed forces together, during a EU summit in Brussels, Belgium, December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman

(reuters_tickers)

By Luke Baker

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - If European leaders earned points for the amount of time they spend at summits, French President Emmanuel Macron would probably top the rankings this week.

A two-day gathering in Brussels - with talks running past midnight on Thursday - was merely the icing on the cake for Macron, who had already hosted a global climate conference and a counter-terrorism summit in the past four days.

"He certainly comes with a lot of energy and ideas," one European Council official said of the 39-year-old, who in seven months in office has earned a reputation for burning the candle at both ends, stretching his youthful staff.

"We just hope we can find a way to channel it."

The question is, is it delivering results?

When it comes to Europe, the report card is so far mixed, although that's not necessarily Macron's fault.

During his election campaign and early months in office, he put euro zone reform at the heart of his programme, hoping to work hand-in-hand with Germany and other member states on it.

But the German election in September weakened Chancellor Angela Merkel's position and she is still trying to put together a coalition, a process unlikely to be completed before March. Without her, Macron lacks a partner to push things along.

The discussions he wanted to have on ideas like a separate budget for the single currency area have been pushed back, an acknowledgement that the timing is not right.

There are talks on migration, security and defence, all topics addressed by EU leaders on Thursday, but progress is slow and halting, particularly on migration, which led to divisive discussions late into the night.

Macron, who in recent weeks has made trips to Africa, met Middle East leaders and brokered the return of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri from Saudi Arabia, is at the heart of all the exhausting debates.

TAKING THE REINS

He may want to steer a course somewhere between former President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose hyperactive EU style drove some partners to distraction, and his immediate predecessor Francois Hollande, who was at times considered too low-key.

"His energy is much appreciated, especially after the blow of Brexit, but he must also try to stay a bit realistic," said a diplomat, mentioning that Macron had managed to raise the Ukraine crisis, the Middle East, euro zone reform and demands that the bloc offer more social protection to citizens.

One problem the former investment banker faces is that getting 28 EU leaders to agree on a single course of action is always hard.

When he acts outside the EU bubble, he has arguably had more success. His One Planet summit this week drew new green pledges from corporations and international organisations, keeping the battle against climate change high up the global agenda.

An unscheduled stop in Saudi Arabia last month for talks with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman helped clinch the release of Hariri, who flew to Paris and then back to Lebanon, where he withdrew his resignation as prime minister.

Macron has in some ways taken the international reins at a time when several Western leaders are otherwise engaged - Britain's Theresa May is tied up with Brexit, Merkel is bogged down in coalition politics and President Donald Trump's first year in office has been chaotic and unpredictable.

His main rival for geopolitical engagement is Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has invited him to be guest of honour at the economic forum in St. Petersburg next May. No confirmation yet of whether Macron will find the time to go.

(Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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