Emmanuel Macron wants to be king and saviour of Europe. But his vigorous pursuit of a sovereign EU defending its interests on the global stage with the United States, China, Russia and India has yielded few tangible gains in his first two years in power.
As the young president has regained his domestic footing after months of a bruising grassroots Yellow Jackets revolt last winter over fuel prices, taxes and the cost of living, his authority on the European stage has waxed again. His peers now realise he will be in power at least until 2022, and quite possibly until 2027.
“National leaders’ weight in Brussels is a direct reflection of their strength and expected longevity at home,” said a veteran Brussels diplomat. “Macron was on the ropes last winter and that sapped his influence in the EU. Now he’s back with a bang.”
Deeply frustrated by Merkel’s caution and German resistance to his proposals for strengthening the eurozone and building a European defense force, Macron has become more willing to challenge Berlin than was his timid predecessor, François Hollande.
“What has shocked him most is the absence of strategic vision and long-term thinking among EU leaders,” said William Drozdiak of the Brookings Institution, author of a book on Macron on the world stage to be published next year. “His disappointment with Merkel and Germany is particularly acute.”
Macron’s ascendancy is also inhibited by his perceived inability to persuade Trump or Putin to change course on issues of concern to the EU.
Yet despite its military reach, nuclear arsenal and permanent U.N. Security Council seat, Paris does not carry the same weight in the EU as Berlin did at the height of the eurozone crisis, when Merkel was perceived as holding the fate of Southern European countries in her hands.
France’s anaemic economy, chronic budget deficits, penchant for trade protectionism and pursuit of strategic autonomy from the United States make it an unattractive leader to many. That has emboldened Macron’s EU critics to form coalitions against Paris, such as the self-styled New Hanseatic League of fiscally conservative northern states led by the Netherlands fighting his proposals for a more integrated eurozone, or Central European countries in the Visegrad Group and Italy’s populists hostile to his policy on migration.
Macron’s ascendancy is also inhibited by his perceived inability to persuade Trump or Putin to change course on issues of concern to the EU. Despite the political capital invested in charming Trump, the French leader was unable to convince him to keep the United States in the Paris climate change agreement or an international deal on freezing Iran’s nuclear program, or to refrain from trade sanctions on European steel and moves to paralyze the World Trade Organisation. Nor has he managed to persuade Tehran to stick to the nuclear deal despite new U.S. sanctions, or rival leaders in Libya’s civil war to cease fire and return to U.N.-led power-sharing negotiations.
French officials say at least Macron keeps trying, in the name of Europe. The French leader has called repeatedly for a “strategic partnership” between Russia and the EU. French officials say Russian cooperation is vital in a range of other flashpoints including Iran, Syria and Libya, and contend that the EU, not China, is Moscow’s natural long-term partner.
But it is not clear that Putin is willing to pay any price for warmer ties with Europe. Macron’s efforts to rebuild trust hinge on whether he can persuade the Russian leader to make concessions over Moscow’s military action in eastern Ukraine, perhaps freeing Ukrainian navy officers captured in the Kerch Strait last November and resuming talks on a ceasefire and political settlement with Ukraine under the so-called “Normandy format,” chaired by Germany and France. If he can’t prevail in such diplomatic battles, his European crown will remain shaky at best.
Source: Paul Taylor, contributing editor at POLITICO, wrote the Europe At Large column.