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The Macron Doctrine: Season 2

The Macron Doctrine: Season 2
 Michel Duclos
Special Advisor and Resident Senior Fellow - Geopolitics and Diplomacy

On November 12, a day after the annual Paris Peace Forum - of which Institut Montaigne is a founding member - President Macron gave one of his wide-ranging interviews to Le Grand Continent.

How might we sum up this interview? For those who follow the assertions of the President of the Republic, it contains few truly new elements. It somewhat captures "the state of mind of a generation", as Emmanuel Macron once again formulates - in an often passionate tone - his commitment to a Europe that affirms its identity and strength in a world that is falling prey to growing disorder. In his words, a Europe that is to become "the leading power in education, health, digital and green policies". The interview is part of a series of high intellectual level positionings, as was the case with the October 21, 2019 interview with The Economist on "NATO’s brain death"; the speech at the French École Militaire on February 7, 2020; and the speech at the Munich Security Conference on February 15. On February 20, we presented a first panorama of the President’s ideas, calling it the "Macron doctrine". Le Grand Continent used this same title for the November 12 interview.

Perhaps it’s time we spoke of a "season 2" of the Macron doctrine. In this second season, the emphasis is placed on the question of global governance (the raison d’être of the Paris Peace Forum), whereas previous interviews focused more strongly on geopolitical issues. It appears that the Covid-19 crisis has reinforced Macron’s absolute conviction that international cooperation is essential to saving the planet. In the immediate term, the increase in "coalitions of actors" on different subjects is what allows for progress to be made (the One Planet Summit, the Christchurch Appeal, ACT-A, etc.). The idea of a "Paris Consensus, but which will be a worldwide consensus", already raised in front of the United Nations General Assembly last September, takes on even greater prominence. Climate change, inequalities and demographics can no longer be considered as "externalities"; they are now parameters to be included in a concerted approach by the international community.

Of course, this "season 2 of the Macron doctrine" also contains echoes of the tragic news of the Islamist attacks in our country. The President sees the fight against "barbarity and obscurantism" as a "contemporary European struggle" par excellence. He spoke out against those who want us to "change our laws", when those laws are the ones that safeguard freedom of expression. He expressed his concern about the sluggishness of the European debate on this topic, which is, to him, indicative of "the moral crisis we are facing". A philosophical vein runs through the interview, which evokes the "breaking points" in European political culture - such as, for example, the civil unrest of May 1968 or the "anti-totalitarian generation".

The Covid-19 crisis has reinforced Macron’s absolute conviction that international cooperation is essential to saving the planet.

But one can never completely escape geopolitics. In his remarks in Le Grand Continent, the President notes that Russia and Turkey are pursuing a policy of fait accompli and that "we have to find mechanisms to get around them". Emmanuel Macron did not elaborate on this remark. It should be noted, however, that this appears to be a complete break with certain aspects that were strongly present in "season 1" of the Macron doctrine. Then, contrary to now, openness toward Russia appeared to be a key component of the road to European sovereignty and strategic autonomy.

The "AKK-Macron polemic"

With regard to these two notions, which are central to him and to which he devotes a great deal of time, Emmanuel Macron disagrees with a recent text by Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (AKK), in which the German Defense Minister posits that it is "necessary to put an end to the illusion of "strategic autonomy"". "The question", says Emmanuel Macron, "is the following: Is the change in the American administration going to see Europeans letting up? I profoundly disagree, for instance, with the opinion piece signed by the German Defense Minister. I think that it is a historical misinterpretation. Fortunately, if I understood things correctly, the Chancellor does not share this point of view".

It is, in fact, this observation in particular that has been taken up in the European debate; or it is in light of it that the umpteenth plea for a strong Europe by the French President has been interpreted.

A few days later, Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer sought to mitigate the differences with Mr Macron by pointing out that she also supported European strategic autonomy, as long as, she added, "this does not imply a questioning of American engagement in Europe". Mr Macron, or indeed any senior French official, has never asked for the Americans to leave Europe - but the Defense Minister’s phrasing cast or rather maintained doubt about French intentions.

The President sees the fight against "barbarity and obscurantism" as a "contemporary European struggle" par excellence.

At the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum organized by the Körber-Stiftung on November 24, Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer once again tried to downplay the divergence with France. Then the moderator asked her the following question: "Didn’t President Macron say that the Chancellor does not share your point of view?" Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer replied: "I have never heard Angela Merkel consider NATO to be superfluous" - suggesting that this was at least implicit in the French position.

Some say the former candidate for Ms Merkel’s succession is actually France’s best ally, because in the German debate, the minister from Saarland supports the need for increased defense efforts. If that were the case, her line would echo that of Prime Minister Blair after the St. Malo Declaration (December 1998), or the conclusions on a European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) adopted at the Nice Summit in 2000: asserting that London had taken a step toward European defense, but above all pointing out that the United Kingdom had succeeded in blocking France’s anti-NATO drift. This does not bode well for the future.

In any case, the "AKK-Macron polemic" is not done making waves yet. In a very strong-worded article in Politico (whose positions we do not share), Rym Momtaz remarks that commentators from Germany, the Baltic states and Eastern Europe widely noted that Mr Macron did not even mention the word "transatlantic" in his Grand Continent interview, "despite the imminent arrival of a more friendly US administration". Tara Varma, director of the Paris office of the European Council on Foreign Relations, said that this "makes European transatlanticists worry about the French position". A few days later (November 25), Steven Erlanger, the New York Times correspondent in Brussels, entitled his article: "As Trump exits, rifts in Europe widen again". 

In the same vein, the latest issue of The Economist speaks of "war of words" between Paris and Berlin and deplores the effect this may have on the new American administration.

Should we enter into a damaging debate about ulterior motives?

From the point of view of the French authorities, can we simply dismiss what largely appears to be unjustified criticism, or a harmful debate in which suspicions and ulterior motives take the place of arguments? We are tempted to say that doing so would be imprudent, for several reasons.

First of all, the sensibility expressed by Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer is strong in Germany, at least within her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), as well as in broad segments of European public opinion. Yet one cannot wish to make the European Union a major player on the international stage without taking account of the thoughts of other Europeans. President Macron’s anti-Americanism trial was all the more absurd in that he, in the same interview with Le Grand Continent, explicitly pointed out that it is "very hard to make sure that things are respected if the Americans are not on our side". Secondly, the various European governments are obviously positioning themselves vis-à-vis the upcoming Biden administration. That is the core of it all: a sort of race for the favor of the future American president is, de facto, underway. Insinuating, or letting it be insinuated, that the French are incorrigible in their habit of wanting to weaken Atlantic solidarity is tantamount to diminishing a competitor’s chances.

President Macron’s anti-Americanism trial was all the more absurd in that he, in the same interview with Le Grand Continent, explicitly pointed out that it is "very hard to make sure that things are respected if the Americans are not on our side"

And this against a backdrop that is potentially unfavorable to the French: Emmanuel Macron’s past attempts to establish a personal relationship with Donald Trump may have created a bad impression among the new Democratic administration (although, it should be said, Macron opposed Trump more strongly than any other European - and with panache). Then there are the recent developments in our domestic politics, such as the renewed controversies over French secularism (laïcité), the images of police violence and the upheaval surrounding the new national security bill. In the international press, coverage of France is particularly negative.The Financial Times, hitherto supportive of Mr Macron, published an editorial on November 29 in which it expressed regret over the French government’s "illiberal plans". The same questions are flourishing in the German press.

A development in Brussels may change this landscape. If we are to believe the Financial Times of November 30, the European Council of December 10 and 11 may see proposals for a transatlantic agenda articulated around the "geo-economic" issues that would make it possible to renew the Europe-US relationship: health, climate change, digital governance, trade, and of course policy with regard to China. Depending on the precise content of the proposals, this is the type of approach that France should support, if possible in visible political partnership with Germany.

In this context, would it not be in the French President’s interest to give a more classical political interview to the international media in the near future, firstly to convey his attachment to the transatlantic relationship, and secondly to highlight the areas of convergence that should be addressed to revive it?



Copyright: Kenzo Tribouillard / POOL / AFP

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