Emmanuel Macron, France, Germany and the Future of the European Union

Emmanuel Macron has published a column in the French and foreign press on his views on Europe. TIt was intended to be a direct address to European voters, bypassing the various governments. However, It seems to have fallen flat. In addition, the response by Ms Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, President of Germany' CDU, presents a clear rebuttal. She wasn’t alone in rejecting Macron's agenda. The Austrian Chancellor was also very critical, calling Macron’s proposals utopian.  

The lack of popularity of Emmanuel Macron’s letter underscores the collapse of his 'European' strategy and calls into question his domestic attempt to foster an imaginary political dichotomy between "progressives" and "nationalists". This strategy reveals the lack of appeal of the personal strategy of Macron, who is beginning to look more and more isolated in France as well as Europe.

French illusions and the German answer 

Emmanuel Macron's letter represented a new attempt to promote a more integrated "federal Europe". It contains some inaccuracies, such as crediting the European Union with the completion of projects in France, which as a net contributor to the EU budget could have accomplished the same feat and had money to spare. The response of the CDU president was very clear; she doesn't share the French President's vision of centralisation. As she puts it, "European centralism, European statism, the sharing of debts, the Europeanisation of social protection systems and the minimum wage would be the wrong way." The last two points were explicitly or implicitly included in Emmanuel Macron's letter. One cannot imagine a more brutal opposition. 

Similarly, Kramp-Karrenbauer contradicts Macron on the issue of the environment, opposing his 'completely different' approach: "setting limits and ambitious European objectives will not lead us to anything. This approach will only meet the approval of a large part of the population if we are able to take into account the economic and social aspects so that employment and economic strength are preserved, [as are] new prospects for development." Her forthright, uncompromising response underscores that Germany remains in control of the game. 

However, Kramp-Karrenbauer didn't just contradict Macron. She also provided her own proposals, some of which are disturbing in their own right. She writes: "We must remain transatlantic while becoming more European. The EU should in the future be represented by a permanent joint seat at the United Nations Security Council." Two important things can be inferred from this. First of all, Germany intends to retain the guardianship of the United States over European policy. If this had been the case in 2003, France and Germany would have joined George W. Bush's Coalition of the Willing in its invasion of Iraq. Perhaps more importantly, Kramp-Karrenbauer intends to "pool" the seat of France in the UN Security Council, subjecting it to European Union control. 

This can be seen as dispelling the illusions that Emmanuel Macron was able to maintain about the EU as well as its presumably good relations with Germany. Berlin seems determined, in reality, to continue to implement its own EU agenda, but, moreover, it intends to strip France of what remains of its sovereignty in determining foreign policy. Macron's European policy is clearly going nowhere, fast. 

An imaginary opposition? 

Emmanuel Macron is witnessing the collapse of his European "dream", which was shattered by the cold interests of Germany. However, the French President insists the EU is coming to be dominated by two irreparably opposed camps, the so-called "nationalists" on the one hand, represented by Hungarian PM Viktor Orban and Italian Deputy PM Matteo Salvini, and the so-called "progressives" on the other, whom he hopes to lead. 

He attacks the 'nationalists', whom he accuses of wanting to "withdraw from Europe", claiming that they are "without solutions". Let us note a small contradiction here: either the real or imaginary "nationalists" intend to "withdraw" from Europe, and have formulated proposals to that effect, or they are "without solutions". The latter, alternately, implies that they are merely indecisive. Emmanuel Macron may not accept the solutions proposed by the "nationalists". However, rejecting them isn't the same as denying that they exist. By combining the two ideas, Emmanuel Macron destroys the credibility of his own words. 

Beyond that lays a problem: who are these so-called nationalists? In fact, it is difficult to perceive the contours of a nationalist camp. There is of course the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, a man who switched from the centre-left to the right. However, his words reflect those of the traditional right in Central Europe, and to some extent other conservative and Christian democratic parties such as Bavaria's Christian Social Union, the party allied with German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats. Orban’s ambition is clear: he hopes to disrupt the EPP, a group of conservative European parties, and to build a new conservative group which reflects his ideas. This ambition, however, does not make Orban a nationalist. 

Then there is Salvini, the charismatic leader of the Italian party Lega, currently Italy's Deputy Prime Minister and its former minister of the interior. Following his party's 2018 victory, he has become the number one opponent to the policy of Emmanuel Macron. The populist leader may borrow the language of nationalism, but no more than Macron himself does when he is pushed to defend French foreign policy. Besides, what could be the basis of Italian "nationalism"? What are the irredentist territorial claims of this "nationalism"? Nobody knows. On the other hand, it is clear that the political project of Mattéo Salvini is not that of Viktor Orban. It is a more social project, more determined also by the peculiarities of Italy. If an alliance between the two men can be formed, it will only be an alliance of circumstance. 

A political construction 

So, why does Emmanuel Macron speak of 'nationalists' in his letter and in his speeches? It is clear that he would like to reproduce the kind of party defections he did in his 2017 presidential election. To do so, he had to establish a progressive stance, while taking on and sometimes injuring countless demonstrators. He broke with the logic of the rule of law, and was implicated in various dirty plots, best exemplified by the Benalla affair. Nevertheless he hopes to face an imaginary camp of "nationalists", those who presumably would have plunged Europe into war. What Emmanuel Macron wants to do is to stage a clash between 'good', which he obviously believes he would represent, and 'evil': all of his opponents.

However, if he is forced to contort himself multiple times to be able to do so, if he has to produce a discourse on current affairs that has nothing to do with reality, it is because he is now devoid of a programme. The truth is that France has suffered failure after failure within the framework of European Union policy. It is empty of its industrial potential because of the euro and faces the cold calculations of German policy, which have put its neighbour in a position of strength.

A sound and reasonable mind would deduce that France needs to build alliances, and that she must make common cause with the countries that dispute this German hegemony. Emmanuel Macron has chosen, instead, to embark on this verbal escalation, from which he hopes to reap some benefits. He does so using questionable tactic, addressing the voters of other European Union countries over the heads of their own governments. The coolness of the reception his missive has received conveys all too well the annoyance of those with whom he will need, eventually, to negotiate. 

Emmanuel Macron in his mirror 

In fact, one might question whether Emmanuel Macron's letter was actually intended for Europeans. Looking through it through carefully, one finds it to be far more reminiscent of French debate than European intentions. This is because Emmanuel Macron's major projects, devoid of real substance, are doomed to failure. But he is probably aware of it. The important thing for him is to make these proposals, even if he must whine in front of the French electorate and tell them how much the other Europeans are ungrateful and do not understand what would be in their own interest: Emmanuel Macron, the Grand Chief of the European Union. 

However, it is the reasoning of a teenager and not that of the leader of a great nation. While Emmanuel Macron claims to be speaking to everyone, in fact, he's only speaking to himself. He keeps looking in an imaginary mirror, imagining poses that are tragic or heroic, to escape reality. 

Because the reality is this: history will remember Macron as one of the worst French rulers in more than a century. While fortune has often favoured our country with great men, it has not been without its mediocre leaders, even ridiculous ones. A lesson here must be learned: Emmanuel Macron believes that he governs via the art of communication. But instead of harnessing this, he lets it take control, and he has revealed his immense narcissism. 

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.