Macron’s go-it-alone style raises eye­brows in Europe

The Korea Times - - WORLD -

PARIS (AFP) — France’s Em­manuel Macron, a europhile who cel­e­brated his elec­tion to the strains of the EU’s an­them “Ode to Joy,” has caused sur­prise by go­ing it alone on mi­gra­tion and pick­ing a pro­tec­tion­ist fight with top ally Italy, ob­servers say.

Two con­tro­ver­sial an­nounce­ments Thurs­day — one by the French pres­i­dent, one by his govern­ment — have led Macron’s com­mit­ment to work­ing with his EU part­ners on so­lu­tions to shared prob­lems to be called into ques­tion. The first was on mi­gra­tion. Dur­ing a visit to a refugee shel­ter Macron an­nounced that France would set up mi­grant pro­cess­ing “hotspots” in Africa, in­clud­ing in war-torn Libya, with or with­out the sup­port of other EU mem­ber states.

“We’ll try to do it with Europe but we in France will do it,” he de­clared — his aides later con­ced­ing that the scheme was “not pos­si­ble at the mo­ment” be­cause of Libya’s dire se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion.

In Brus­sels, of­fi­cials were caught off guard by the uni­lat­eral plan aimed at pre­vent­ing mi­grants pil­ing into rick­ety boats bound for Europe.

Euro­pean Com­mis­sion sources said they had re­ceived as­sur­ances that France’s po­si­tion was “com­pletely aligned” with that of the bloc — but they still ruled out mi­grant cen­ters based out­side the EU of the type mooted by Macron.

No sooner had that foray by France’s cru­sad­ing new leader been di­gested than his govern­ment an­tag­o­nized Italy by an­nounc­ing the na­tion­al­iza­tion of a ship­yard that had been promised to a state-run Ital­ian firm.

Rome, al­ready smart­ing over be­ing side­lined by Macron on a cease­fire deal in its for­mer colony Libya, re­acted with fury to the move which stood in stark con­trast to the anti-in­ter­ven­tion­ist mes­sage that Macron ham­mered home on the cam­paign trail.

Macron in­sisted the move was tem­po­rary un­til the two sides reached a deal on joint own­er­ship of STX that pro­tected French jobs and as­sured Italy would play a “ma­jor role” in the ship­builder. But Italy was seething. “Na­tion­al­ism and pro­tec­tion­ism are not an ac­cept­able ba­sis on which to con­duct re­la­tions be­tween two lead­ing Euro­pean coun­tries,” Italy’s fi­nance and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment min­is­ters fumed.

Euro­pean dis­unity

Italy’s cen­trist Cor­riere della Sera news­pa­per said the af­fair had re­vealed Macron as “a na­tion­al­ist,” while Ger­many’s Han­dels­blatt eco­nomic daily said it “cast a new light on his com­mit­ment” to Europe.

“How can Europe be united if a Euro­pean part­ner is not con­sid­ered a re­li­able share­holder?” Han­dels­blatt won­dered, re­fer­ring to the jobs ar­gu­ment put for­ward by France.

But in France at home the first na­tion­al­iza­tion since 1981 was widely cheered, giv­ing its youngest ever leader a boost af­ter polls showed his rat­ings tum­bling over his planned spend­ing cuts.

Le Monde news­pa­per called it a “well-timed po­lit­i­cal act” that would help him win back sup­port on the left.

“But Mr Macron is tar­nish­ing his Euro­pean im­age some­what,” it noted.

A for­mer govern­ment ad­viser said Macron’s EU flag-wav­ing dur­ing the cam­paign masked a be­lief that Europe served chiefly to en­hance France’s stand­ing.

“He is com­mit­ted to the Euro­pean ideal, but far less so than to French sovereignty,” the ad­viser, who asked to re­main anony­mous, told AFP, adding: “Hav­ing good re­la­tions with An­gela Merkel doesn’t change that.”

For Fran­cois Heis­bourg, chair­man of the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute for Strate­gic Stud­ies, Macron is a man in a hurry, who brings to mind ex-pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy.

“Like all new pres­i­dents he’s dis­cov­er­ing his pow­ers and giv­ing into the temp­ta­tion to use them to the max,” Heis­bourg said.

So far Merkel and other EU lead­ers have em­braced the French­man’s can-do ap­proach and been con­tent to let him play the role of Europe’s top diplo­mat with U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Rus­sia’s Vladimir Putin.

But Ste­fani Weiss, di­rec­tor of the Brus­sels of­fice of the Ber­tels­mann Stiftung foun­da­tion, warned Ger­many was start­ing to “look a lit­tle frus­trated by this en­er­getic pres­i­dent who is jug­gling a lot of balls.”

“We can only hope he is not over­whelmed by all the ini­tia­tives and not over­es­ti­mat­ing what he can do,” she cau­tioned.

So far Macron’s diplo­matic ef­forts have mostly been crowned in suc­cess.

On Tues­day, he got the two ri­val au­thor­i­ties in law­less Libya to agree a con­di­tional cease­fire.


French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron lis­tens to a speech af­ter at­tend­ing a mass mark­ing the first an­niver­sary of the killing of a French Catholic pri­est by two ji­hadists, out­side his church in Saint-Eti­enne-du-Rou­vray, north­ern France, Wed­nes­day.

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