France’s Macron has burst into tears again and has used the British press to hold court and whimper about how he and his EU vision aren’t working out.
Oh to be Emmanuel Macron. The French president appears to be on the edge of some kind of meltdown, following his fatuous comment about NATO being “brain dead”. And glancing at the slow growth in the EU – which is hitting Germany for the first time, as well as of course France – you can see how Macron is starting to panic.
He recently warned in an interview with the Economist that America was turning its back on Europe and that he had no confidence in NATO anymore. Was this a dig at Trump or more specifically a vitriolic outburst at Trump’s policy towards Iran, which in a matter of weeks will turn to the EU for cash hand outs and support, as it pulls out all together from the infamous JCPOA, otherwise known as the Iran Deal?
Macron’s big ideas about the EU being a big player are not really working out. Perhaps it is his main idea of him being the big player in a bigger EU which is the real issue though as his attempts to run the EU (in his role as French president) are floundering; few doubt that in five years time, when the EU in Brussels needs a new Council and Commission president, that his name will be on the list and he will break the old unwritten rule that no ‘giant’ of the EU can have a president in Brussels.
Well, not since Jacques Delors, anyway.
The EU is not working. Its economy is hitting new lows, which is even affecting non-eurozone countries like Sweden, and Britain’s more joined up departure will be one more unedifying message to its members: time for a rethink of the project.
The problem is that the ‘rethink’ idea will be as divisive as ever. In one camp, Macron and his pro federalist buddies in Brussels who are addicted to the EU udder tend to think dramatically, rather than rationally when thinking of ‘reforming’ the EU project. ‘Reform’ for them means taking more power in an anti-democratic fashion and then hope that, say a new EU army (from larger national EU defence budgets), bigger EU grants towards research (to compete with the US), minimal wages across 27 member states and, most radically, overhauling the Schengen Agreement with a new, single asylum policy, will all collectively muster greater political support.
Moderates across Europe though – perhaps what he might call ‘Eurosceptics’ – might argue that in such a crisis that the EU is in, that a decaling and downgrading of the projects ambitions might be a way to re-connect with EU voters.
I once asked European Commission president, Romano Prodi in 2002, what his chief task was in office. “To reconnect with voters” he answered confidently.
The smug smile soon vanished from his cherub like face when I replied “but surely that would suggest that once the EU was connected with them?”.
The tantrum that Macron is having presently with NATO is part of a bigger picture of the EU in decline. For EU countries to oblige Trump by agreeing to the 2% of GDP to be put aside on defence spending is an abhorrent attack on Macron and his vision of a new EU. Macron wants bigger defence spending to boost the EU project’s failing political support. But even this logic is flawed. Voters have been in steady decline for the EU project for at least the last three EU elections and a larger populist block in the European parliament is a clear testament to that.
Superpowers act. Pseudo super powers talk and hope their carefully-crafted press releases make an impact. The heart of the matter of this recent attack on NATO is how US policy targeted at Iran is failing. But that failure can be weathered by the US, as superpowers, by definition, look to others to shoulder the burden of their errors. And it is to the EU, where Trump looks for that action. It will be the EU which will pay the greatest price for Iran to make its next move in the coming days and pull itself further away from its obligations under the so-called Iran deal.
The problem with Macron is that he is so entrenched in his ultra conservative neo conservative past. Even in his letter published earlier this year in the Guardian he talks of a new EU looking more to Africa for future investment, perhaps a glimpse of Conrad like old values of France and its colonial legacy. Contrasted to the NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg who has a more modern, realistic view of France and old Europe.
“I strongly welcome efforts to strengthen European defence… But the EU cannot defend Europe” he said recently at an event celebrating 70 years of NATO’s existence. “This is partly about military might. After Brexit, 80% of NATO’s defence expenditure will come from non-EU allies.’
That must have hurt Macron. But if the EU can’t even defend itself, it is ‘brain dead’ to think of any plans to expand itself and its powers?