Macron out­shines Merkel as EU’s top diplo­mat

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Ger­many has for years longed for a stronger French part­ner, but may have got more than it bar­gained for as the self-con­fi­dent Em­manuel Macron takes Europe’s spot­light. Strik­ing im­ages from Paris this week of­fered signs of how Europe’s de-facto lead­er­ship has started to mu­tate in the two months since Macron took of­fice. The 39-year-old French pres­i­dent wel­comed US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to Paris for din­ner in the Eif­fel Tower and the tra­di­tional July 14 mil­i­tary pa­rade.

The smiles and glad-hand­ing be­tween the two men con­trasts starkly with Trump’s dour re­la­tion­ship with Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel. The abid­ing im­age thus far has been his ap­par­ent re­fusal to shake her hand on her first Wash­ing­ton visit fol­low­ing his in­au­gu­ra­tion - and the ten­sions re­mained on dis­play at this month’s G20 sum­mit in Ham­burg which Merkel chaired. Macron has also reached east­wards, host­ing Rus­sian leader Vladimir Putin amid the spec­tac­u­lar sur­round­ings of Ver­sailles in late May. Macron is show­ing that “France is back in the game,” said JeanDo­minique Gi­u­liani of the Robert Schu­man foun­da­tion, a spe­cial­ist Euro­pean think-tank. “There’s a re­bal­anc­ing - which was nec­es­sary - of the re­la­tion­ship with Ger­many,” he added.

Leader of the free world?

Merkel un­til re­cently was alone on the Euro­pean stage - even be­ing hailed as the new “leader of the free world” by some English-lan­guage me­dia af­ter a 2016 that brought Brexit and Trump’s shock elec­tion vic­tory. In typ­i­cally Ger­man fash­ion, the chan­cel­lor her­self has never laid claim to lead­er­ship in Europe - a po­si­tion that would in­stantly trig­ger dark ac­cu­sa­tions about the coun­try’s past. If she had the man­tle of lead­er­ship cast upon her, it was partly be­cause of the lack of a plau­si­ble coun­ter­weight in France, which for decades part­nered Ger­many as Europe’s po­lit­i­cal dy­namo. Strug­gling eco­nom­i­cally com­pared with a thriv­ing Ger­many and led by the un­pop­u­lar Fran­cois Hol­lande, France was long eclipsed by its neigh­bor. Bri­tain, the EU’s other ma­jor ac­tor, quit the field of play with a ref­er­en­dum vote last year to leave the bloc. Else­where, Poland’s voice holds less sway as it faces ac­cu­sa­tions of drift­ing to­wards au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism, while Spain and Italy re­main eco­nom­i­cally anaemic.

Macron’s ar­rival in the El­y­see Palace as a com­mit­ted pro-Euro­pean has roused hopes of a re­turn to the Franco-Ger­man dou­ble act, which forged Euro­pean in­te­gra­tion and cre­ated the world’s big­gest trade bloc. But his vi­brant per­sonal style and show­cas­ing of France have also caused some to ask if he would re­ally pre­fer to be solo. “The Ger­mans were sur­prised when Trump’s visit to Paris was an­nounced,” a diplo­matic source told AFP.

“Macron wants to use this ges­ture to flat­ter the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent and make a name for him­self as leader of Europe,” com­mented Ger­man mag­a­zine Der Spiegel in this week’s edi­tion. By com­par­i­son, Merkel has opted for a some­what tougher course with Trump, crit­i­ciz­ing the pro­tec­tion­ist rhetoric that brought him to power and his de­ci­sion to aban­don the Paris cli­mate ac­cords.

Re­la­tion­ship test

Macron, too, has been an open critic of Trump’s poli­cies, es­pe­cially on cli­mate. How­ever, he “didn’t greet Trump by rolling his eyes and giv­ing a ser­mon like Chan­cel­lor Merkel at the G20, but with a spec­tac­u­lar mil­i­tary pa­rade, with din­ner at the Eif­fel Tower, with friendly words and much manly back-slap­ping,” com­mented Swiss daily Neue Zuercher Zeitung. “It sug­gests that Macron could be­come the EU’s top diplo­mat, dis­plac­ing Merkel from a role she never re­ally wanted,” the pa­per con­tin­ued.

For now, bash­ing the US pres­i­dent - a mas­sively un­pop­u­lar fig­ure in Ger­many - serves Merkel’s do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal pur­poses ahead of par­lia­men­tary elec­tions in Septem­ber, when she hopes for re-elec­tion to a fourth term. And a more bal­anced power ar­range­ment is a re­lief to Ger­many, con­di­tioned by its Nazi past to shy away from sole lead­er­ship in Europe. Macron and Merkel may have con­flict­ing styles, but right now this does not ap­pear to af­fect the sub­stance of Euro­pean lead­er­ship. Both are wed­ded to the goal of con­sol­i­dat­ing the Euro­pean Union, which faces in­ter­nal stress from na­tion­al­ism and the ex­ter­nal chal­lenges posed by Brexit and the “Amer­ica First” Trump. But their re­la­tion­ship will face a crit­i­cal test af­ter the Ger­man elec­tions, when talks on re­form­ing the euro sin­gle cur­rency build up steam. At that point, po­ten­tially deep di­vi­sions be­tween Ber­lin and Paris are likely to emerge - and it will take more than me­dia-friendly im­ages and rhetoric to bridge them. —AFP

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