Emmanuel Macron has been a busy man. While he has a unique vision for France’s global role, his vision is falling on deaf ears.
At the end of April, French President Macron received a standing ovation from the US Congress. At around the same time, he also had a phone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani who informed Macron the Iranian nuclear deal was “not negotiable.”
Approximately one week prior, he received similar treatment from the European Parliament as he did in Washington. Then, he went to Australia and the wider Pacific region, to try his hand at building a new Pacific relationship aimed at confronting China’s expanding influence.
But what has he achieved in doing so? And why is it that, despite all of his attempts to build a close relationship with the United States, France and America’s relationship is actually at an all-time low?
Despite the disturbing physical closeness of Trump and Macron, the blunt truth is that the two of them were pretty much diametrically opposed on almost every major issue at their meeting in April. Take Macron’s position on the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), for example. While addressing the United States Congress in English, Macron insisted that the JCPOA be preserved, while at the same time hinting that there could be tweaks or complementary agreements to address the concerns of the Trump administration.
Apparently, Trump was having none of it. Now, of course, we all know how that story ended, with the complete sabotage of what was widely regarded as a workable agreement which saw heavy compliance from the West’s Iranian counterparts.
In fact, Macron’s entire speech at the time was a complete criticism of everything Donald J. Trump stands for. In other words, Trump and Macron can kiss and hug as much as they like, but nothing can actually change the reality of the Trump administration’s foreign policy agenda.
Now, France’s foreign minister warned that Macron was prepared to “respond” to US moves in the Middle East, following the recent violence in Gaza by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) (but also most likely in reference to the threat of sanctions against European companies that would violate America’s stance on the JCPOA).
Macron also reportedly phoned up Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to condemn the recent violence in Gaza, which saw more than 60 Palestinians massacred and 2,700 injured. While such a move is somewhat commendable from the French president, it appears that his strategy of attempting to please as many people as possible will only serve to isolate France in the not-too-distant future. You can’t realistically be everyone’s ally at the same time, particularly when you consider the hostility that many of the players involved have towards each other.
To put it bluntly, all of this showmanship, while pretty to watch for those people who are in that way neo-liberally inclined, is almost completely redundant. Writing in the Financial Times, Gideon Rachman explained that “to lead you have to have followers – or at least close allies…This matters because there is a limit to what the leader of a middle-sized European power can do on his own.”
As Rachman summarized in one paragraph: “By contrast, Mr Macron — for all his charm — is finding it hard to persuade others to follow his lead. Following his departure from Washington, Mr Trump called his French counterpart a ‘wonderful guy’. But for all the quirky, dandruff-plucking bonhomie between the two presidents, there is little evidence that Mr Macron was able to shift Mr Trump on anything substantive.”
Perhaps the growing rift between the US and France is partly why France jumped on board the “Assad has used chemical weapons” bandwagon with more keenness than any other major player, participating in what was an illegal assault on Syria’s sovereignty approximately a month ago. While this attack made major headlines at the time, France was also upping the ante on its troop presence inside the country, yet again another illegal move (this illegal invasion did not receive anywhere near as much media coverage). In fact, it was Macron who took credit for Trump’s decision to renege on his word to pull US troops out of Syria completely.
This is just speculation, but it seems as though the international void that has arisen by the uncertainty and unreliability of the Trump administration has left a gaping wound that Macron has decided to pounce upon. However, he knows that France cannot realistically pull off such a feat on its own.
Right now, Macron has signaled he wants to strengthen the EU as an entity by pursuing a pan-European campaign for the 2019 European Parliament election. However, while Macron’s vision for the world is more in line with that of the rest of Europe than Trump’s America, he has still struggled to even pull Germany on board, which is essentially the powerhouse in Europe. There is always the United Kingdom, but the future of Brexit puts this relationship increasingly at odds as well.
In his bid to travel the entire globe and build a new global vision, Macron also proposed a new Australia-France-India axis to confront China’s rising role in the Pacific. Foreign policy experts have already raised doubts that France could pull off such an alliance, given the notable distance from Paris to the Pacific. And that’s even before one considers that the special collectivity of France, New Caledonia, will be voting for its independence in a referendum on November 4, 2018.
Perhaps Macron’s problem is that he is trying to do too much in too short a space of time. The Brookings Institute notes that Macron once claimed his movement to be neither on the left or the right, while still avoiding the term “centrist,” before stating that it was actually on both the right and the left. This signals an unusual attempt to claim to represent everyone’s interests in both the domestic and international sphere at any given time; one that is ultimately doomed to fail miserably.
Furthermore, Macron’s purported internationalism is not playing too well at home either. On this past Sunday, thousands of people protested in Paris under the banner ‘One year is enough’ to mark the president’s one year anniversary as leader. Approximately one week prior, tens of thousands marched again through the French capital under a sarcastic slogan ‘Fête à Macron’ (Party for Macron), following another demonstration that took place on May 1.
While he focuses on improving France’s standing in the international arena somewhat dismally, the French people are not too thrilled by his domestic policies. “What we want specifically is to resist, show him our anger, show him that there are some French people who did not vote for him, do not agree with what he is trying to do and will resist in so far as we can,” reportedly said Sylvie Brissonneau, who took part in the May 5 protest.
None of this bodes too well for Macron’s vision for France nationally or internationally. As Rachman astutely concluded: “The danger for Mr Macron is that he could be a leader who is out of tune with the times. At home, he is a liberal economic reformer, at a time when ‘neoliberalism’ has never been less fashionable. He is a pro-European at a time of mounting Euroscepticism across the EU. He is a globalist and an internationalist at a time when protectionism and nationalism are on the march.”
Macron’s vision and its impending doom can be best summarized by the tree planted by Macron at the White House in April, that mysteriously disappeared not long after, having been placed in quarantine as it had been brought into the US from overseas – think of it like Trump’s travel ban overriding Macron’s agenda, but for trees.