Those who wrote off Emmanuel Macron before he even got his feet beneath his office desk in the Elysée Palace may yet have to eat their words. Trade Union opposition to the President’s proposed reforms of the voluminous, all-encompassing Code du Travail looks to be losing momentum.

On Thursday, according to the ministry of the interior, 132,000 demonstrators turned out across France to protest against change – 91,000 fewer than during a similar manifestation on September 12. In a country of 65 million people, with a proud history of street agitation, these are not numbers that will have the CRS shaking in their boots.

For both sides, the decisive confrontations are expected to take place tomorrow (Saturday) when the professorial Far-Left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon rallies his troops in Paris, and again on Monday, when a union-backed strike by lorry drivers threatens to disrupt commerce and introduce the possibility of fuel shortages, especially in the greater Paris region.

Ministers will be looking on anxiously to see what level, and depth, of support there is for protracted opposition to labour reform. Macron, on the other hand, will be looking to assert his authority and to show that change is coming, like it or not.

But even as the 39-year-old head of state draws lines in the sand at home, he is equally active on the European front. His problem is that before he issues his much-anticipated communautaire call to arms, he must first look 500 miles to the East.

This weekend is expected to confirm German Chancellor Angela Merkel as the most important political leader in Europe. Unless the sky falls in, she looks certain to win Sunday’s federal elections and to embark on her fourth term in government – a feat achieved by Helmut Kohl primarily because of the fortuitous collapse of East Germany and his country’s subsequent reunification.

During the next four years, she is expected to cement her legacy on several fronts. Crucially, she plans to bring about the smooth integration of around one million newly arrived Muslim immigrants into German society (thus adding a much-needed new element to Germany’s faltering demography). This will not be easy, but the worst fears of her opponents, including the surging Alternative für Deutschland, have yet to be realised. The AFD can make as much noise as they like, but if “Mutti “has her way – and it’s a big if – they could end up looking like no more than naughty children

Once re-elected, the four-time chancellor simultaneously intends to reinforce and reform the European Union – not in Macronian leaps and bounds, but, more characteristically, by way of a modest programme change and support for the common currency.

Finally, she looks poised to step forward as the first leader of post-war Germany to secure a central place on the world stage, filling a gap left behind by Britain and only aspired to by France.

Macron – hugely ambitious for himself and his country – knows that if he is to have any hope of becoming the European leader American, Russian and Chinese presidents keep as number one on their speed dials, he has two hurdles to jump. First, he has to show that his boast of France as a great military power is matched by actions, and, second, he has first to be seen as the inspiration behind the next phase in the development of a rejigged Europe.

On defence, he is shaky. He hasn’t increased spending on the armed forces, he has cut it back, and sacked his chief of staff in the process. Like successive British leaders, he has come to realise that it is easier to talk up his military than to sign the cheques necessary to fill the gaps in their capability. But at least Germany is not here standing in his way.

Reform of Europe is messy, but probably cheaper in the end. Rhetoric, its primary instrument, is a currency of which he considers himself a master. On Tuesday, he is scheduled to make a speech in which, apparently, he will call for the creation of a more integrated Eurozone bolstered by newly-created budget and finance ministries having the authority to propose and dispense billions in EU spending. He will also, according to reports, support measures aimed at ensuring that member states, including France, conform to stricter regulations on the ratio of debt to GDP. Finally, he will develop his thinking on the possibility of a European monetary fund, a continental equivalent of the IMF, that would work closely with the Commission and the European Central Bank in Frankfurt to promote fiscal discipline across the 27 and act as a potential crisis management centre.

Merkel is likely to offer her young French counterpart some honeyed words. She too hopes to see more discipline across Europe, especially in the periodically chaotic Club Med belt. But she does not wish Germany become the central paymaster or much-put-upon lender of last resort. Instead, she will underline the need for a gradualist approach, with small reforms here and small reforms there, adding up, over ten years or so, to a more streamlined Europe.

She may go along with the idea of a brace of EU “ministers,” analogous to the High Representative for foreign affairs, who would take notional charge of budgetary and spending measures. How such a pair would work with the Commission and how much real authority they would exercise remains a matter for debate, decided across several EU summits.

But with Britain out of the picture, institutional change in Brussels is without question moving to the top of the agenda in both Paris and Berlin. The two most important founding members of the European Project were for thirty years seen as the engine of Europe, driving it forward, with help from Italy and the Low Countries. Any revival of that central dynamic will be broadly welcomed – although in the recalcitrant East Bloc, most obviously in Warsaw and Budapest, there will undoubtedly be accusations of a Franco-German imperium, with the rest of the 27 as no more than a supporting cast.

For Macron, the prize of European leadership, bringing with it renewed global prestige, is a consummation devoutly to be wished, even if it has to be shared with his neighbour across the Rhine. That is one thing, suitably Jupiterian in nature. More immediately, he has to see off the unions and the extra-parliamentary Left and put some actual flesh on the bones of his domestic reform programme.

The French economy, though showing signs of recovery, has a long way to go before voters feel that the best part of two decades of decline have finally been brought to an end, to be replaced, they hope, by years of plenty. Unemployment remains stubbornly high. There is a generation of French men and women in their thirties who have never held a permanent job, matched by businesses and corporations whose plans to expand have been hamstrung by regulation.

Emmanuel Macron v. Jean-Luc Mélencon doesn’t just make good television. It is a conflict that, for the next while at least, could decide the destiny of France.