I wouldn’t dare comment so categorically on France’s domestic politics but from the point of view of international politics, the rescue of the European Union, and the defense of the West, French President Emmanuel Macron seems to be rapidly turning into an incredible disappointment.
France’s President deems himself worthy of becoming the dominant leader of Europe but is woefully missing the mark on a wide range of absolutely crucial counts.
From disrupting the European Parliament’s Spitzenkandidat functioning system because of his personal dislike of Manfred Weber;
To blocking Albania and North Macedonia’s EU future for no apparent rational reason whatsoever;
To insulting Eastern Europeans, including by declaring his preference for non-Europeans to them, thus perpetuating Western Europe’s utterly mistaken priorities gradually dooming the EU to collapse;
To bashing NATO by declaring its “brain death” thus horrendously undermining its credibility and the trust in the Alliance in the already cataclysmic Trump – Brexit Era;
To becoming eager to succeed German Chancellor Angela Merkel as the undisputed leader of the European Union, and maybe even of the “Free World”;
And, last but not least, to delusionally believing that France (or maybe Franco-Germany) can handle a resurgent Russia all on its own, balance it, contain it, negotiate with it on equal terms, and strike a fair deal with it on behalf of all of Europe or even of the entire West, without getting outsmarted, or even crushed diplomatically by Moscow –
All of those very sins on his part demonstrate that Macron now seems to regard himself way too highly, for whatever reason, and that he’s failing to realize that each one of those sins has done far more harm than good – and that much of the damage in question might ultimately prove to be irreparable.
Indeed, those are words and actions that one might have expected from Macron’s key competitors for the French Presidency back in 2017 – from Marine Le Pen from the National Rally (Front), or even from the disgraced old-school Francois Fillon. But to see and hear all that from Macron who symbolized until very recently the containment of the European far right and the rejuvenation of the stale, stagnant mainstream party politics?
From the point of view of the best interests of the European Union, the West, and the wider international community that these two actors have been leading and shaping, generally for the better, at least in the past few decades, Macron seems to be wasting a tremendous opportunity for positive change, a wave of popularity that has already started to subsidy, and has been in quite a while.
Instead of focusing on defending European and Western norms, values, and principles, Macron seems to be pursuing a skewed agenda about his personal “grandeur”, about being one of the very few big guys on the world stage, about being able to strike backstage deals with the other big guys.
Any analyses or word-of-mouth commentaries of Macron trying to broker a Trump – Putin deal (conditional on Trump’s own political survival in the United States) at the expense of Eastern Europe and of all of Europe, really, or to come on top of the exhausted German leader Angela Merkel in their talks with Russia in the Normandy Format, at the expense of Ukraine, and again all of Europe, really – do point in that direction.
Or maybe Macron’s isn’t making it all about himself. Maybe he’s after a just as misguided “France First” international strategy, in which he’s viewing the European Union just as some kind of a vehicle for modern-day French grandeur, rather than an intrinsic part of France’s being – such as continuing post-colonial military action in Sahel and West Africa, or a perplexing course of engagement with the Mediterranean such as his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy’s “Euro-Mediterranean Union” (whatever that was), or the failed campaign to topple murderous Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, in which the French and the Brits were saved from tremendous embarrassment only through Obama’s decision to step in via NATO.
Consider just Macron’s handling of his one “NATO’s brain death” comment. He has just defended it in a joint press conference with NATO’s poor Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg (poor because he has had to deal with precisely this kind of absurdities since at least Trump’s election as US President).
“We maybe needed a wake-up call. I’m glad it was delivered, and I’m glad everyone now thinks we should rather think about our strategic goals. So I make absolutely no apology for having cleared up ambiguities,” Macron said this week alongside Stoltenberg (as cited by Reuters).
Sure, there could have been a million other ways in which Macron could have sounded a wake-up call about NATO but instead he chose to question the credibility of the North Atlantic alliance – pretty much the only factor sure to guarantee peace in Europe – in a very haphazard way conveying an amateurish approach, if it was well-meaning, or, alternatively, a deliberate intention to undermine NATO.
I’m sure many political commentators out there have been holding out on stating that it isn’t NATO who is brain-dead but anybody in a relevant position of high politics prominence who would dare proclaim that, and now Turkey’s leader Recep Erdogan, who is an entirely different league all on his own, has beaten all of us to it by asking Macron to check his own “brain death.”
“The French president’s statements are examples of a diseased, shallow understanding. What’s he saying? That NATO has experienced brain death. Mr. Macron, look, I appeal to you from Turkey, I will also say it at NATO, have your own brain death checked out first,” Erdogan said (as cited by Politico).
It’s very hard to argue here with the Turkish leader. Again, to make matters crystal clear, the question isn’t whether NATO is “brain-dead” or not, whether Macron’s claim is true or not. The problem is that somebody who happens to be the President of France deems it a good idea to declare that NATO is “brain-dead”. That way, even if the assertion isn’t true, it might as well become so as a self-fulfilling prophecy mechanism gets set off very easily in high politics.
Consider another quote from Macron’s defense during the press conference with Stoltenberg:
“The questions I have asked are open questions, that we haven’t solved yet. Peace in Europe, the post-INF (Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty) situation, the relationship with Russia, the Turkey issue, who’s the enemy? So I say: as long as these questions are not resolved, let’s not negotiate about cost-sharing and burden-sharing, or this or the other.”
Apparently, the President of France isn’t aware as to “who the enemy is” – of the West, of Europe, of France. Imagine that. Various NATO and NATO member officials have been formulating clear-cut answers to these questions for a decade now but somebody wasn’t paying attention. And that’s just assuming that Macron as the President of France is unable to formulate any answers himself and has got to ask the others. So much so that he deems damaging NATO’s credibility necessary so as to have the others offer him answers.
And at the same time, Macron seems to be asking the “brain-dead NATO” for help with France’s military operations in the Sahel:
“In this context, and in light of the decisions that France will take, a bigger engagement by its allies is obviously something that would be quite positive… In the Sahel, France is involved and acting on behalf of everyone. If some people want to see an example of what they term cost-sharing, they can come Monday to the ceremony France is organizing [for the 13 dead French soldiers]. There they will see the cost” (as cited by The Guardian).
Not unlike Macron’s bashing of NATO, his veto on the widely anticipated opening of Albania and North Macedonia’s EU accession negotiations has been framed in basically the same way.
He justified that with wanting to “reform” the EU enlargement process, which is one of the things about the EU, which has been working rather well without any doubt.
If you happen to have caught Macron’s EU enlargement reform proposals, they are senseless:
“Once negotiations are opened, the integration process would no longer be based on simultaneous opening of a large number of thematic chapters, but on several successive stages, which would form coherent policy blocks.” (as cited by Politico)
So it’s basically like saying that when you wash your clothes, you shouldn’t fetch them all out of the washing machine and toss them into the drier, but instead you should group them and dry them in stages. The end result would supposedly be the same but you’d squander a lot of the benefits of the process, and might even be very late if there were an event you needed to get dressed up for. In the EU case, you might even be very late with respect to given the respective societies the hope and opportunities of a European future, and to preventing them from falling into the hands of geopolitical predators.
More clues about what appears to be Macron’s ever more revealing cluelessness about the true interests of France, Europe, and the West are bound to emerge from the much touted meeting of the Normandy Format (France, Germany, Russia, Ukraine) about the ongoing war in Donbass in Eastern Ukraine.
Once again, anybody thinking that France on its own, or even Franco-Germany, can balance today’s resurgent Russia successfully, is very, very naïve. There isn’t even a shred of historical evidence that was ever possible – only of some great powers at both ends of Europe making deals at the expense of everybody else, or just everybody. Especially the small nations of Europe, Eastern and Western European alike.
I myself authored a very optimistic article about Macron’s rise to the French Presidency back in 2017, together with a second article warning that he shouldn’t end up like Obama or Trudeau. I also wrote an optimistic article about Obama’s election back in 2009, which, however, didn’t prevent me from recognizing a few years later that during his two terms the West had started losing ground on all fronts – from the Baltics to the Caucasus to the South China Sea, not to mention the domestic front of snowballing identity politics bitterness.
The French society and its Yellow Vests aside, Macron is rapidly shaping up as a disappointment for Europe and the West.
Nobody in the entire West would mind a leading role for France and even Macron, or any other French leader – the situation is such that Europe and the West as a whole desperately need successful leadership and a successful leader.
It’s just that this leadership requires standing up for their values, not disrupting their security and development architecture. And truly standing up for freedom and democracy, at least in the West, rather than an inclination towards backstage great power deals – you know, the kinds that ruined the West and the world by generation World War I and World War II.
Considering Macron’s rapidly amassing above-mentioned sins, it doesn’t seem likely that he’d achieve much grandeur for France or himself. But every well-meaning, law-abiding citizen of Europe and the West might have to hope and pray that the potential damages caused by Macron somehow remain minimal or minimized. As if Europe and the West didn’t have enough problems already.