With an ever changing political arena, opportunists abound
“Impossible is the word found only in a fool’s dictionary. Wise people create opportunities for themselves and make everything possible”
Napoleon Bonaparte used to say. Well, it seems that the current French president is driven from the same determination, putting his fingers into as many pies as he can.
Since he came to power in 2017, Emmanuel Macron has often been compared to the legendary emperor. He is the youngest French leader since Napoleon. Politically, they both have placed their governments between left and right, going over the old division among the parts. The final aim is the same: building a new and better France. So, if domestically several reforms are aimed to transform the country at its core, Macron’s foreign policy pursues a leading role for the French Republic within the international chessboard.
An hyperactive diplomatic mode is the main feature, as POLITICO renamed, the “Macron method”. This lies, particularly on close-contact personal relationships that the French president is striving to build with other leaders around the globe. Although, his strategy does not always bring the desired outcomes and has often been seen with suspicion by French partners and allies.
Probably, the best example is his relationship and way of dealing with Vladimir Putin. For instance, in August 2019 Mr Macron hosted the Russian leader in his presidential summer retreat a week before the G7 summit. The Western allies did not engage well with the French hospitality and its “Russia reset” plan. It, actually, aims to bring Moscow into the Western ranks despite the Russian bloody line of conduct.
However, in Macron’s view, reintegrating Russia within Europe is part of a biggest geopolitical shift. This includes moving the European Union away from the dependence of the United States in terms of security, in addition to preventing a future Chinese-Russian coalition. At the moment, his strategy does not seems to have come to fruition. But, as he claimed during a speech on defence and nuclear policy held in Paris in February “This process will take many years”.
Another main characteristic of this international approach is, ultimately, to secure that France is at all times at the centre of international affairs. As one of his advisers disclosed:
This ambitious foreign policy is the best reflection of Macron’s Neo-napoleonic dream. But, how is he doing so far?
The bulky French presence into Middle Eastern affairs is something that cannot go unnoticed. Particularly during these latest months, Macron appeared to be pretty busy within the area despite the several problems related to the health pandemic that he is facing domestically.
He visited Lebanon twice after the disastrous Beirut blast, even passed by Iraq on the way back. With the ruins still on the background, Mr Macron put in scene his political runway as the saviour of the country whilst pushing Lebanese leadership to build a cabinet according to his guidelines. The government of a country that still has a great strategic significance for Europeans. The news of Mustapha Adib’s resignation was, probably, a hard pill to swallow for Paris.
The French president has also implemented his military presence to help his allies, Greece and Cyprus, to defend their waters from the Turks. Here, his Neo-napoleonic approach has, perhaps, reached its peak. He even organised a summit among Mediterranean leaders in Corsica, calling for a coalition to react against Turkey’s aggressive actions. Although, this did not produce the wished results either.
Yet, behind his last moves there are older and higher-reaching projects that strive to establish France’s power in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Eastern Mediterranean.
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Charles de Gaulle was the first to initiate France’s “Arab policy” in the area after the Algerian War of Independence. Following him, Jaques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy both fostered close relationships with Arab leaders. Now, with USA always more out of the game and UK busy to deal with Brexit matters, Macron wants to portray himself as the European leading power who will bring order and stability in the region. While preserving and developing French interests in doing so, of course.
From France’s point of view, the Eastern Mediterranean bloc is an important strategic pawn. It is an essential element of its national defence and security strategy, a way to expand and consolidate its international leverage as well as a juicy area of economic interests. Turkey represents France’s biggest impediment in implementing its “Arab plan”. Already In Libya and Syria, diverging policies contributed to worsen their relationship. Now, after the creation of opposite alliances, the geopolitical fight got bitter. Will the Macron method win against the aggressive Erdogan’s strategy, eventually?
Another important element for understanding the French-Turks dispute is that they are both members of NATO. It has de facto affected the North Atlantic alliance’s operations in terms of military cooperation between the two countries. However, Macron already expressed his opinions around the military coalition in an interview appeared on The Economist in November 2019. On that occasion, he actually suggested that NATO was “brain dead”. With this expression he pointed out not just the leadership vacuum left by the Trump presidency, but also the lack of political cohesion amongst members.
The French desire to detach itself always more from the US sovereignty has been highlighted also in light of other matters, such as about the relationship that Washington has with Iran and China. On the latter point, during the UN General Assembly occurred at the end of September, Macron called for a “modern new consensus” on coping with global challenges.
“The world today cannot be reduced to the rivalry between China and the United States, irrespective of the global weight of these great powers” he argued.
In terms of European Union, the sharp Macron has his more ambitious plans in mind. With the British power out of the game, he wished to restore the French hegemony within Europe. One key element in this view, considering “reconstructing Europe” is to create a European army able to protect the Union from China, Russia and even the US. Although, in the meantime he tried to boost his relationship with Putin as well as with the Chinese President Xi Jinping.
At the moment the French dream within Europe appeared to be shadowed by the old dynamic and better diplomatic strategies. Especially, Germany seems not willing to cede its primacy so easily. Concerning the French-Turks matter, Angela Merkel came out as the winner mediator and protector of European stability. The pragmatic German politics showed, one more time, its superiority in contrast with the Neo-napoleonic Macron method.
Other EU members did not share this punitive vision about the Turkish issue. Italy, for example, was already harbouring resentment towards Paris for the current migrant issue, which is the unfortunate product of the French military intervention in Libya in 2011. Plus, the French oil giant Total is the biggest competitor of the Italian ENI within the Mediterranean gas resources. It does not surprise that Rome was reluctant to impose sanctions on Turkey.
As much as similarities exist with the famous French leader, Macron appears to lack of the Napoleonic resolution in building a stronger France. Domestically, it seems to have failed to consolidate the national economy. Whilst internationally, his attempts of restoring the old role of France as a leader are stumbling to be realized. What is certain is that his hunger of power is difficult to achieve. We all should be aware of Macron’s audacity, while waiting for his next move.