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Macron’s brand of diplomatic discourse

Macron’s brand of diplomatic discourse
 Michel Duclos
Special Advisor and Resident Senior Fellow - Geopolitics and Diplomacy

Seldom a day goes by without President Macron speaking out, often emphatically, on international affairs. In recent weeks such topics have included Lebanon, Turkey, Belarus, the Navalny incident and, of course, European affairs. 

However, in today's fast-paced world, there are relatively few opportunities for the President to provide an overview of his diplomatic thinking. This is traditionally the purpose of the annual speech during the Ambassadors’ conference at the end of August, but in this year of global pandemic even this harmless ritual could not take place.

Hence, it was the speech delivered on September 22 at the United Nations General Assembly which served as the President’s yearly lecture on world affairs. To quickly paint the picture: this year, the presidential address did not take place from the General Assembly’s rostrum in New York City, but rather from the Elysée Palace - a virtual presentation of unusual length (45min). 

Two years ago, the annual UN summit was marked by a "clash of visions" between Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump through their respective speeches. This year, Donald Trump’s particularly vehement attacks focused on the land of the "Chinese virus".Xi Jinping, from his office in Beijing, has on the contrary portrayed his country as a peaceful power and an ardent supporter of international collaboration. He has offered enhanced commitments in the fight against global warming. 

The Sino-American rivalry thus clearly dominated the debates, as it is now also ubiquitously permeating the UN system.

According to Mr Macron, several cycles are coming to a close.

A significant message, if not the main thread of Emmanuel Macron's speech, was an emphatic warning about the rivalry between China and the United States. It has been said that the French President was in a sort of middle ground between China and the United States. 

This is not the case, but it is true that he warned against falling into the trap of a heightened fascination with the rising tensions between Beijing and Washington: "the world, as it is today, cannot be reduced to the rivalry between China and the United States".

In his speech, the President gave an initial assessment of the crisis caused by Covid-19: "All the fractures that existed prior to the pandemic [...] have only accelerated and deepened as a result of the global destabilization created by the it". However, while there will be an end to Covid-19, "there will be no miracle cure for the dismantling of the contemporary order". 

According to Mr Macron, several cycles are coming to a close: "this world in which we have been living in was based on [...] the Washington consensus. It has run its course." The same applies to the framework set by the Cold War: "our security and stability depended very largely on agreements signed in the past between the United States of America and the USSR," which have been "gradually dismantled over the last decade."

What is to be rebuilt on the ruins of a world that is disappearing before our eyes? According to Emmanuel Macron, the answer lies in "a fairer, more balanced, more equitable and more sustainable globalization", "integrating within it, at the heart of its model, the fight against inequalities [...], the fight against global warming". 

In this spirit: "Multilateralism is not only an act of faith, it is an operational necessity". 

Alongside the warning about a "Sino-American focus", the need to redefine the terms of globalization and the modalities of a new multilateralism thus appears as the other central message of the president’s speech. 

Multilateralism is not only an act of faith, it is an operational necessity.

When he translates this vision of the world's progress into policies, the President's words become more conventional. They amount to a reiteration of France's positions on major international issues. 

The President outlines five points in his program for the international community. 

  • First, "the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction", implies that Iran cannot "obtain nuclear weapons", and that "negotiations with North Korea" must be initiated. Terrorism continues to "primarily threaten our collective safety: this is why France will always be strongly engaged in the Levant and in support of Iraqi sovereignty, and stands alongside its Sahelian partners".
  • Second, the French head of state advocates "the robust construction of peace and stability respecting the equal sovereignty of Peoples". This is the case in Lebanon, "where the aspirations of the sovereign Lebanese people must be heard". It is the case in Syria, where "free elections" must be held. In Libya, it is necessary to "obtain a lasting ceasefire, then set in motion a dynamic that would allow for a political resolution of the conflict under the aegis of the United Nations". In the Eastern Mediterranean there must be "a Pax Mediterranea, but not at the cost of intimidation". In Belarus "a national political dialogue must be established and any external intervention must be avoided".
  • Third, Emmanuel Macron goes on to mention the protection of the common good. The first "global common good" being public health, for which was launched ACT-A (Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator, an international initiative for the production and distribution of Covid-19 tests and vaccines). The second, the environment, is "at the heart of our collective agendas" and must be a priority for "massive stimulus packages" leading to national zero-carbon policies. Finally, he refers to cybersecurity, which must be an international concern, with actions such as the "Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence" and education. 
  • Fourth, the President speaks of "building a new era of globalization", in which States must avoid nationalist and protectionist withdrawal, but also curtail dependence on the great powers, while fighting against inequalities. Once again, the ears of China and the United States must be ringing. 
  • Finally, he addresses the issue of "respect for international humanitarian law and the fundamental rights of individuals", including "solidarity in the field of migration" and women’s rights.

Throughout his speech, the President condemns the unilateral decisions made by the Americans, Chinese, Turks, and Russians, sparing no direct criticism of the aforementioned powers. With regard to the Iranian nuclear agreement, he states: "We will not compromise however on the activation of a system that the United States, by its own accord in exiting the agreement, is no longer in a position to set in motion".

Europe, according to Emmanuel Macron, also presents as a political power.

On the Navalny case, he reminds Russia of "the need for all the light to be shed on the assassination attempt against a political opponent using a nerve agent". Regarding Turkey, he states: "we respect Turkey, we are open to dialogue, but we expect it to respect European sovereignty, international law and to provide clarification for its actions in Libya as well as in Syria". 

Finally, concerning the Uyghurs, he states: "France has requested that an international mission under the aegis of the United Nations be allowed to visit Xinjiang in order to address the concerns that we collectively have about the situation of the Uyghur Muslim minority".

In the President's mind, as one might expect, Europe - alongside Africa - must play a leading role (is already playing a leading role) in redefining the terms of globalization. Europe is taking "its full share of responsibility" in areas such as health ("It is Europe, together with its partners, that made it possible to build the ACT-A initiative") or the environment. In this area, Europe is taking a series of measures including "an agreement to raise the level of its ambition to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050", involving "an ambitious ETS (Emission Trading System), a minimum carbon price, a carbon inclusion mechanism at borders". 

Europe, according to Emmanuel Macron, also presents as a political power, on the issue of Belarus, for example: "No interference, no guilty silence. Europe, here too, will face its responsibility, its history and its geography".

Noticeably, in most of the topics he discusses, Emmanuel Macron comes back to the question of sovereignty, which according to him is ultimately one of the pillars of multilateralism: the sovereignty of Europe, the sovereignty of Peoples. 

This is a fundamental theme for the President, the terms "sovereignty" or "sovereign" appear 19 times throughout the speech.

He is careful to underscore once again that in Mali and in the region, "France is only present on Malian soil at the behest of sovereign states and regional organizations". It is also to help defend its sovereignty that France under Mr. Macron’s leadership is providing support in Iraq.

This is a fundamental theme for the President, the terms "sovereignty" or "sovereign" appear 19 times throughout the speech. However, a strange confusion influences his thinking on the matter. He states: "In my opinion, Libya is the perfect example of complications we can create when we do not respect the sovereign will of the Peoples." It is common knowledge that Emmanuel Macron was very critical of the 2011 Western intervention in Libya, but can one argue that leaving Gaddafi alone in his palaces would really have been consistent with the sovereignty of the Libyan people?





Article co-authored by Agnès de Castellane, research assistant at the Institut Montaigne

Copyright : Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP

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