Macron’s vision for Europe is crumbling – and he can’t even blame the Brits
Ask any government minister about the dismal state of Anglo-French relations, and for about a year you will have received the same answer: wait until after the presidential elections! Emmanuel Macron is just a little French. He needs to hit roast beef to keep his constituents happy and that’s just a game. After all, didn’t the Tories send gunboats to protect Jersey ahead of last year’s Hartlepool by-election? Worked a treat. When the elections are over, good relations can resume. It was always like that.
But not this time. It has now been almost two weeks since the French elections, and Macron shows no interest in rekindling the bonhomie. Since his reelection, he has spoken to Joe Biden, Olaf Scholz and Xi Jinping. He kissed Narendra Modi in Paris and even called Vladimir Putin – but has yet to find time to speak to Boris Johnson. Diplomatic inquiries have been made and the message has come back: it is deliberate. Macron has returned to power with big plans not just for France but for Europe – and sees Britain as the problem.
The first problem is Brexit. No 10 wants to overhaul Northern Ireland protocol, saying East-West customs checks are causing unnecessary uproar in Ulster with hardliners on the march and politics slipping to the extreme. Sinn Fein is leading in the polls and decentralization itself appears to be in danger. No. 10 surely says it’s time to rethink? Is it in no one’s interest that unnecessary border controls fuel extremism?
But Macron is adamant that there should be no compromise and Johnson should be left to wallow in his own Brexit-induced misery. He wants to establish a principle: that the European Union of 27 should not be led. Macron is seen in Number 10 as the biggest obstacle to a common-sense solution to the Northern Ireland protocol. Not because he wants to see Britain suffer from Brexit (although there is a bit), but he wants to show the world that the EU’s word is final.
Next, Macron hoped that the Ukraine crisis would catalyze the EU into a defense alliance. “We can no longer depend on others to feed us, to heal us, to inform us, to finance us,” he recently said of Europe. He called for a “genuine European army” – as opposed to NATO – and dreams of a time when there would be no more American troops on European soil. It’s Britain’s nightmare, and Johnson has instead used the Ukraine crisis to bolster NATO.
The problem for Macron is that Britain has made quite a bit of progress in selling the globalist vision of European defence. The EU is already a Defense Union (under Article 42.7 of the Lisbon Treaty), which is fine in theory. In practice, it’s a joke. That’s why Sweden and Finland are now joining NATO: they want to put themselves under America’s protection and think it’s the only protection worth having. A US general was on the Swedish island of Gotland earlier this week, emphasizing this point.
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace is not even waiting for Sweden and Finland to join NATO to offer them a place under Britain’s nuclear umbrella. Many Britons are “descended from the Vikings”, he says: cultural ties are strong – so an alliance between the UK and Scandinavia now appears to be a done deal. In Moscow, meanwhile, bizarre advertisements have appeared at bus stops describing Swedes as Nazi sympathizers. The battle lines of the future are drawn – and this time America stands with even more Europeans than during the Cold War.
Even Germany is not hedging its bets on an exclusively European defense. Scholz doubles his defense spending but will switch to US Air Force F-35 fighters (capable of carrying NATO nuclear bombs). Such decisions will bind the future German military to America for decades to come.
Macron is also losing the argument about what NATO should be doing: he is adamantly against moving further into Asia and keeping China in check. But the German Greens, now in government, see the defense of Taiwan as the basis for the defense of democracy in general.
Macron’s other problem is that he is not particularly trustworthy among Eastern Europeans. Just last month, Poland’s prime minister caustically remarked on Macron’s recent appeals to Putin: “Nobody negotiated with Hitler.” They also remember him sitting at the other end of Putin’s long table three months ago, talking about the need to reassure the Kremlin. “Whoever believes in Europe must know how to work with Russia,” Macron warned at the time, “There is no security for Europeans if there is no security for Russia. .”
At the time, Britain was supplying hundreds of anti-tank missiles to the Ukrainian army after years of training on how to fight the Russians: that was our definition of promoting security for Europe. This aligns more closely with how Sweden, Finland and Poland see things: that alliances should be steel, not just words. The Joint Expeditionary Force now active in Eastern Europe is another example of how Britain envisions its post-Brexit future: ad hoc coalitions of the willing, for specific projects.
The defense agreement signed between Britain and Japan yesterday is another example of this new world of global alliances: if Japan rearms, Britain hopes to offer its wares. Then there is the Aukus partnership with the United States and Australia which froze the French, to Macron’s enduring fury. Another ad hoc coalition of the willing.
None of this should put Britain and France at loggerheads. We are still the two biggest defense spenders in Europe, big on everything from nuclear submarines to hunting jihadists in Africa. If Macron fears the EU is losing its chance to become a defense alliance, he should be equally angry with the Germans, Finns, Swedes and other Europeans who are now seeking American protection.
During his election campaign, Macron said the war in Ukraine would reshape not just countries but also continents for generations to come. He’s right – but this new form now seems more global than just European. All of this has given Johnson a chance to say that Britain can handle world affairs just as well, if not better, after Brexit. But maybe better if he doesn’t take stock. There’s always a war going on, more alliances to build – and an accord of hearts to mend.