Search for a report, a publication, an expert...
Institut Montaigne features a platform of Expressions dedicated to debate and current affairs. The platform provides a space for decryption and dialogue to encourage discussion and the emergence of new voices.

Emmanuel Macron: Splits Between Interests and Values

Emmanuel Macron: Splits Between Interests and Values
 Dominique Moïsi
Distinguished Senior fellow

Russia, China, the United States: France is attempting a balancing act. But it must find a compromise so as not to sacrifice its principles on the altar of its interests.

Three weeks ago, the G7 summit was held in Biarritz. The event having taken place fairly recently, are we able to draw a first assessment with more distance? On a global stage, the Biarritz Summit was characterised by a dual process of legitimisation for the G7 formula in the world and Emmanuel Macron in France. By proving to his critics that the G7 could be useful in spite of its limitations, the French president has seen his popularity rating rise significantly in public opinion.

Today, thanks to the combination of the President’ personality and the void surrounding France in Europe, the country has regained – at least in part – the position it once held on the European and world stage. The saying France is back has never rang more accurate. But with a regain of influence comes responsibilities. What France says and does goes far beyond itself. The approach that the country of human rights takes to tackle the tension potentially existing between interests and principles is not neutral. There cannot be an overly blatant contradiction between defending the values of the Enlightenment at the national and European levels, and diplomatic choices driven only by cold geopolitical considerations at the international level. The search for a middle ground, for a fair compromise, between interests and values applies especially to the management of our ties with Moscow, Beijing and Washington.

The Russian enigma

Let us start with Russia. How reasonable is it to keep isolating Russia, considering its essential role on many issues, from Ukraine to Syria?  But as we draw closer to it, as President Macron wishes, can we really pretend that it is not systematically seeking to intervene in our democratic processes? Convincing Russia that its future is in Europe and it shouldn’t be satisfied with being China's junior partner in the world is no easy task. Even more difficult is to convince Moscow to abandon a way of thinking inherited from the USSR, which was reflected in the formula, still relevant in its own way today, "what is mine is mine, what is yours is negotiable". When an animal is weakened and feels vulnerable, it is often then that it is most dangerous. To have no illusions about Russia, the nature of its system and the strength of its bad habits is one thing. Yielding to the temptation of results, to the irrepressible desire to announce spectacular diplomatic breakthroughs, is another. There is a major contradiction between the length of diplomacy and the immediacy of contemporary media culture. Has France really made progress on the Ukrainian issue or has it genuinely contributed to the de-escalation of the Iranian crisis? Only time will tell. A pinch of boldness and imagination goes a long way compared to resignation and passivity.

Ignoring civil society is a mistake

Besides the Russian file, there is the Chinese file. Some French economic sectors have an interest in lifting sanctions against Russia.  But no one can wish for an escalation of the trade war with China which would claim victims in all camps. Can we nevertheless – Angela Merkel being a happy exception – turn a blind eye when Beijing, through the Hong Kong government, deliberately challenges the status quo that has existed in the peninsula on the basis of the agreements signed between China and Great Britain since 1984? Not unnecessarily provoking the wrath of the Chinese is one thing, arguing that "all this does not concern us" is another. Beijing, like Moscow, seems to consider that the liberal democracy model has become obsolete. It is good to remind them, discreetly but firmly, that they too are facing small problems with their system, from the streets of Moscow to Hong Kong. In our relations with Russia and China, disregarding civil society would not only be a moral fault, but also a strategic error, a form of voluntary auto paralysis that would weaken our hand and strengthen that of our partners and adversaries. "You are doing everything to weaken us, perhaps you should look more closely at what is happening in your country before you disperse your energies and resources in direct or indirect attacks against our systems".

Donald Trump will never be a reliable partner

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is the American file. Dealing in a privileged way with its president is one thing. Nature hates vacuum and France fills it in Europe. But this desire for diplomatic rapprochement – partly reflecting the strange personal empathy that exists between the French and American presidents – should not lead to misunderstanding. Donald Trump is not France's candidate in the 2020 US presidential elections. Emmanuel Macron's role cannot be to legitimize the Trump candidate to a subset of the American electorate by making him appear more reasonable than he really is.

Not neglecting China or Russia, by going beyond the leaders who embody them at a given point in time, is a Gaullist tradition. But we must not go too far down this road. In the case of the United States, the unpredictable nature of the first world power’s leader is truly exceptional. We can tactically flatter him, making surprising and transient connections with him. Donald Trump is not, and will never be, a reliable and stable partner. Defending our interests and principles requires a combination of firmness and distance towards him. 

It is necessary to understand there is not necessarily a conflict between interests and principles. By betraying its values, a country often betrays its interests.

With the permission of Les Echos (published 09/09/2019)

Copyright : Ian LANGSDON / POOL / AFP

Receive Institut Montaigne’s monthly newsletter in English