How Macron is manipulating Europe – UnHerd
France – actually, Emmanuel Macron – took over the presidency of the EU, or “our Europe”, as he calls it. It set the stage for a typical magniloquent speech to the European Parliament, together symbolically (as requested by the French) in Strasbourg. Part of the speech was the kind of Euro-nationalism boastful I always found distasteful: the “unique civilization” of Europe, his “invention” of democracy, its “one-world solidarity” his “incomparable culture,” “our uniqueness as Europeans”, etc.
When this rhetoric is combined with fanciful claims about the EU’s unique vaccine success (based on its “unique solidarity” – which is clearly lacking) and its efforts to advance “the sovereignty of the peoples” (which it works to undermine), one is tempted to conclude that everyone knows it is just sales pitch to satisfy its audience of MEPs. A hint of cynicism rarely goes wrong, and the simplest explanation is that Macron faces an election in April and wants to bolster his image as the philosopher-king of Europe and France.
Macron is now the only tirelessly enthusiastic Europhile among the greatest French politicians. When he was elected in 2017, he was the only candidate standing on a “European” platform. This will be true this year. It may seem a risky strategy, as the French electorate is more pro-European than the British had. But the French, whatever their doubts about the EU are more resigned. Marine Le Pen crashed during the last presidential campaign when she could not explain how to get out of the eurozone, which is the crucial question.
Besides, most people in France think the EU does not have much importance. In response to the parliamentary systems of the Third and Fourth Republics, the presidential fifth system designed to Charles de Gaulle, provides France with a “republican monarch” to provide national leadership, especially in foreign policy. This means doing what the elite thinks is in the national interest. De Gaulle has memorably: how can you govern a country with 246 kinds of cheese? The answer is not to be guided by the cheese.
France, even more than most democracies, is ruled by an elite, practically a caste. Once I asked a rising young French diplomat how come they all seemed to agree. He said without hesitation, he learned to “Sciences Po”. The Institute of Political Science was deliberately set up in the distinguished 1870s, after a disastrous cycle of revolutions and defeats, to “create a brain for the people”. Sciences Po graduates, and those from other elite training schools, most famously the École Polytechnique and the École Nationale d’Administration (which Macron attended, after graduating from Sciences Po), still form the working brain France. Unlike the elite educational institutions in Britain or the United States – Oxbridge or the Ivy League, for example – these are smaller, more exclusive, and above all dedicated primarily to state service. Like a civilian Sandhurst or West Point.
So while the electoral tactics come and go, Macron really spokesman consensus much older and deeper. His Europeanism is more eloquent, but his views are somewhat different from those of his predecessors. Part of this is a simple conviction that France is unique and cultural leader and legitimate political Europe. De Gaulle wrote that he had always believed in France dedicated to “an eminent and exceptional destiny.” As Harold Macmillan in realized when de Gaulle, “said Europe ‘, he means’ France’.” The speech Macron Strasbourg, in the language of the EU, reflects historical fears of France and its ambitions: moreover it changes.
These fears have their roots in the disaster of 1870, when Prussia invaded, bombarded Paris, destroyed the French supremacy in Europe and emerged as a new German Empire. Since then, relations with Germany have dominated French foreign policy, traumatically confirmed by two world wars. “France has a German policy, it has no other,” wrote a prominent French commentator shortly after the end of World War II. His European policy is its German policy.
After 1870, it took 50 years for the strategy of France for the recovery to develop. At first, there were bitter partisan divisions – bitter enough to get a first shot political left Parliament – whether true patriotism meant respond to defeat by turning away from Europe to win colonies or concentration forces on “the blue line of the Vosges”, the mountains that ran along the new border with Germany.
In the end, the French decided to do both, creating a global empire to support their power in Europe. In the 1920s, realizing that Germany’s defeat in World War I had not destroyed her power and that France could not count on British or American support, Paris proposed European integration.
This was to be the means both to reconcile and control Germany. After a promising start, it fails in the 30s but the idea was never removed and the second defeat of Germany in 1945, produced the same logic, especially when new to Britain and America seemed in the eyes of French, unreliable allies. European integration, culminating in the creation of the euro was to be the main way to tame German power – sweetened by full of expressions of friendship.
The shows of the word of the great strategy Macron France – the strategy of governing caste – was based on the same logic for nearly a century. Partnership with Germany in a European framework is the foundation. And if Germany does not respond, the language becomes more attractive and more sustained pressure. This time, Macron told the European Parliament that France and Germany have agreed to give more power – the right of legislative initiative, hitherto the monopoly of the Commission. Not much doubt who is steering the ship.
And other allies? Russia – both ruled by the tsars, communists or plutocracy today – is a difficult geopolitical partner, but always tempting: its main ally France 1890-1917, and a new ally in 1935. And now? Macron said Russia needs to be negotiated with Ukraine, to find a political compromise. More strikingly, he announced a “dialogue” with the Russians on the “collective security” of a new “European order”, an “order of security.” This may allow the Western Balkans to join the EU, but, he says, it will take the EU governance to become more centralized.
He sees in it the “vocation of our Europe” – of France, in other words – to be a “true balancing power”, which seems to mean further from the Atlantic alliance. Part of this vision is that of a new “alliance” between the EU and Africa, emphasizing the connections between the two coasts of the Mediterranean, the heart of the former French empire.
It’s pure and simple Gaullism. Move away from “Anglo-Saxon” emphasize the special relationship with Germany, flirting with Russia, influence Africa. Unlike Britain, France clung shamelessly to its imperial and post-imperial role, maintaining a military presence, and financial policy in its former African colonies, legally converting remote island possessions in parts of France ( and so in parts of the EU), and promotion Francophonie, Equivalent Commonwealth. As mentioned above, since the 1880s, it has seen its role in the world as complementary to its European status. European integration continues this strategy outside, France stands as the leader of Europe, and Europe presents itself as the only global power on the continent, with nuclear weapons, territories overseas and a seat on the UN security Council. Such ambition top flight could possibly be illusory. But you have to admire the determination. There is no alternative plan: the dice are thrown long.
Where Britain stands out in the French vision? Macron called “bonds of friendship” with “the British people” – but not ostensibly their government. To follow “a common path” after Brexit requires Whitehall to implement “good faith” agreements on Northern Ireland and fisheries – the “condition for remaining friends”. Any Brexiteer will respond that it was France that failed in good faith in protocol, Northern Ireland and fishing. No matter: Macron think it brandishes the EU as a big stick, and maybe he does.
Brexit represents both a danger and an opportunity, as has been clear since 2016. Britain cannot be allowed to leave the EU successfully, or France’s European project is at risk. But if Britain were to accept some kind of subordinate status, in line with the political and economic “common path” of the EU (and therefore of France), France’s position would be strengthened. The resignation of Lord Frost, who had explicitly rejected this, caused rejoicings at the Elysee Palace, where Liz Truss appears to be seen as a lightweight.
A former European Commissioner history buff recently told me that he thought that Britain and France were engaged since the beginning of European integration in the 50s, in their third Hundred Years War. The first, which ended in 1453, was won by the French. The second, ending in 1815, by the British. In the third, we still have three decades to go.