By Benjamin Haddad
The last few weeks have seen a flurry of diplomatic activity and disruptive new rhetoric emerging from Paris. In a blunt and wide-ranging interview on the future of Europe last month, French President Emmanuel Macron said NATO was experiencing “brain death,” a few weeks after starting a new diplomatic initiative toward Russia to design a “new architecture based on trust and security in Europe” and opposing the opening of European Union accession talks to Albania and North Macedonia. Just a few days after last week’s NATO summit in London, Paris hosted the first summit in three years with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, to reignite peace talks about eastern Ukraine.
Why and how should Europeans respond to the French president? On trips over Europe in the last weeks, from Berlin to Budapest, Bratislava, and Athens, I repeatedly heard the same mixture of interest and puzzlement, if not outright distrust, about French intentions. Does the French president want to push the United States out of Europe? Is Macron trying to kill EU enlargement? Did he come to a secret agreement with Putin?
Europeans shouldn’t read more than what Macron has actually said. Instead, they should seize Macron’s comments as a provocation—an opening bid intended to solicit their own views and red lines. Macron wants to seize Brexit and German paralysis as an opening for France to shake things up in Europe, but he knows he will need new partners. Macron’s vision—like any ambitious proposal—is riddled with blind spots that constructive partners can steer him away from. Europe should engage Macron to shape his agenda, rather than try to block or ignore him.
What is driving Emmanuel Macron? Traditional historical references are obsolete. Some have seen in Macron’s NATO comments a resurgence of old-fashioned Gaullist nationalism or French anti-Americanism. But there’s no way to reconcile that with Macron’s history of campaigning with EU flags waving at his rallies and investing heavily in the relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump. It’s no accident that France is the country that Trump has visited the most since his election, while Macron remains the only official state guest of the Trump presidency. The two men also led military strikes on Syria together. France is an active NATO member that General Mattis called Washington’s new “partner of choice” after Brexit. So much for anti-Americanism.
Picture: Адміністрація Президента України [CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D