From a French perspective, Emmanuel Macron simply pointed to the fact that the emperor was naked (and suggested that he put his clothes back on!). However, for Berlin, Washington, London, Warsaw, Rome and many other capitals, the "Macronian warning" is existential, operational, and conceptual:
- In Europe - and in sectors that are still important to the American political class -, Atlantic culture represents an existential dogma, against which the French, since the time of General de Gaulle, have been considered at the very least potential heretics. Donald Trump takes this attitude the wrong way - as if Pope Francis were tweeting: "Forget what the Gospel says". Our allies do not perceive President Macron's words as "disruptive" thinking, but on the contrary as a return of the "repressed" Gaullist, eager to harm the Alliance and cynically exploiting the mistakes of the current President of the United States.
In this respect, when the President insists on the efforts he is making to maintain a good relationship with Trump, he is somehow aggravating his case.
- On an immediately operational level, perceptions are very important in power relations. Our allies reasonably argue that by making the decline of the American guarantee too obvious, the problem is aggravated - especially if there is no replacement device available in the short term. The President can answer this by saying that he is opening a debate for the future; he also points out that he has launched several projects since the beginning of his presidency to strengthen European defense. The fact is that the summit on 3 and 4 December looks like a minefield due to Trump's unpredictable behaviour, the difficulties that the Turkish will raise, the temptation of some allies to settle their problems directly with Washington, etc. Let us not forget either that the Turkish Foreign Minister indicated that Ankara required NATO to register the YPG (Syrian Kurdish organisation) as a terrorist organisation.
In this context, Chancellor Merkel calmly but very quickly refuted Emmanuel Macron's observations. France’s main European partner made no secret of the fact that they would have preferred a more "responsible" attitude from the French President.
- Finally, conceptually, the idea that prevails in Germany in particular (with exceptions, including the notable one of AKK) is that a new American administration would allow the "restoration of the previous situation", the return to the calm waters of the American guarantee. As already noted, the diagnosis is different in France, as shown for example by Benjamin Haddad's excellent book (Paradis Perdu) or Gérard Araud's analyses (Passeport diplomatique).
The German perception is probably a simple denial, the French analysis is perhaps too schematic. This issue should be further discussed among Europeans.
The settling of scores with Europeans?
A young analyst from the Atlantic Council, Olivier-Rémy Bel, points out that NATO's fate is not at the heart of Emmanuel Macron's observations. The President's central concern is Europe. For him, the questioning of American protection is only one aspect of the European crisis. Europeans have forgotten that Europe is a project that goes beyond the economy. They behave as if the market was answer to everything - the market protected by the American umbrella. "We have lived, he said, in a mercantilist world with secure alliances." We did not understand in time that the tragedy of history, the fracturing of the world, the political and security agendas dominating economic agendas, are now all back. We find it difficult to accept, for example, that "at a time of globalisation, the ultimate guarantor of world trade could become protectionist". European governments, divided and weakened by the populist wave (of which, with the Yellow Vests, France is not spared, he notes), have not been able to meet in time either the challenge of the Eurozone or that of immigration. At a time when, moreover, the authoritarians - Russia and Turkey - are on the verge of resurgence, and the prospect of a US-Chinese G2 marginalizing Europe is looming.
Taking up ideas he had formulated at the beginning of his term in office, Emmanuel Macron returns with particular emphasis on the need for Europe to think in terms of sovereignty, geopolitics and power, in particular in two areas: defense and technology. He also underlines the leading role that the EU should play on climate change. It is perhaps on technological issues that the French President is most striking in his analysis. He focuses on two aspects: 5G and data, i.e. Chinese digital mastodons on the one hand, and American GAFAs on the other. This, he explains, is where European sovereignty will be at stake in the coming years. However, so far, Europe has only dealt with these issues in terms of free movement, competition and monitoring the rules of a market that is as fluid as possible: it must finally adopt a policy of power capable of enforcing its sovereignty.