The French pres­i­dent with Gaullist as­pi­ra­tions

The National - News - - OPINION - DAMIEN McEL­ROY Damien McEl­roy is the Lon­don bureau chief for The Na­tional

French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron is a world leader with a pen­chant for chal­leng­ing in­er­tia. He won the pres­i­dency as an outsider of the two-party power struc­ture and has repo­si­tioned France on both the Euro­pean and world stage.

The prob­lem for the French leader is how dif­fi­cult the task has been of en­list­ing peo­ple in his quest for change.

The sec­ond Paris Peace Fo­rum held in the French cap­i­tal last week il­lus­trated the scale of his am­bi­tion and his per­sonal com­mit­ment to up­end­ing the sta­tus quo – but also the dam­ag­ing mix of indifferen­ce and op­po­si­tion that met his agenda.

Hav­ing trig­gered up­roar from around Europe with his re­mark that Nato, the North At­lantic Treaty Or­gan­i­sa­tion, was “brain-dead”, Mr Macron re­fused to back­track from his com­ments.

In mak­ing over­tures to Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin this sum­mer, Mr Macron had al­ready split the Euro­peans. Ger­many does not want France go­ing it alone and drag­ging Europe away from its pol­icy of con­tain­ment and sanc­tions. In­deed, Ger­man of­fi­cials have briefed that they heard of Mr Macron’s “re­set” talks with the Rus­sians not from the French but the Krem­lin.

Some French of­fi­cials have pri­vately con­ceded they ex­pect no re­cov­ery in the key Ber­lin-Paris for­eign pol­icy axis un­til 2021, when Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel is due to hand over to a next-gen­er­a­tion suc­ces­sor.

The trou­bles for the French leader do not end there. Grand ges­tures like the fo­rum are not enough. Al­most no Amer­i­can rep­re­sen­ta­tives ap­peared there and rel­a­tively few big name Euro­pean lead­ers joined. There was a strong African rep­re­sen­ta­tion but they were largely frus­trated.

The con­tri­bu­tions from a hand­ful of Sa­hel lead­ers was par­tic­u­larly strik­ing. The lead­ers of Mali, Niger and Chad com­plained their coun­tries were be­ing let down in the af­ter­math of the French­led mil­i­tary of­fen­sive against Is­lamist ex­trem­ists. Given the pres­tige that Mr Macron in­vested in the fo­rum, the col­lec­tive tone of the African pres­i­dents’ re­marks was re­mark­able in it­self.

An­other at­tendee in Paris, An­to­nio Guter­res, the UN sec­re­tary gen­eral, warned that the ex­trem­ist threat was on the rise both in the con­flict zone and spreading to other parts of West Africa and the Gulf of Guinea. He said the G5 Sa­hel Joint Force, set up to in­tro­duce a multi­na­tional sta­bil­i­sa­tion ef­fort, was in trou­ble.

The near-5,000-strong Sa­hel force was se­verely ham­pered by a lack of re­sources and strate­gic sup­port, ac­cord­ing to Mr Guter­res. “The Joint Force con­tin­ues to face sig­nif­i­cant train­ing, ca­pa­bil­ity and equip­ment short­falls, which ham­per its full op­er­a­tional­i­sa­tion,” Mr Guter­res said in his re­port. “The lack of air as­sets, ar­moured ve­hi­cles and trans­port ca­pa­bil­i­ties and in­di­vid­ual pro­tec­tion equip­ment com­pounds the threat posed by the use of im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vices.”

Com­ing on the heels of his depar­ture from Paris, the UN in­ter­ven­tion sig­nalled that one of the big­gest French for­eign pol­icy com­mit­ments was in ef­fect bogged down.

En­er­getic and at times in­ven­tive diplo­macy by Mr Macron saw mul­ti­ple at­tempts to draw Iran and the US to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble, to no avail. A com­bi­na­tion of the raw power of US sanc­tions and the Euro­pean col­lec­tive fail­ure to find a mech­a­nism to sus­tain trade with Iran stymied the El­y­see Palace. The push went nowhere.

Mr Macron has also been ac­tively pur­su­ing a me­di­at­ing role in the Ukraine cri­sis. On Fri­day he an­nounced a four-na­tion sum­mit be­tween Ukraine, Rus­sia, Ger­many and France would take place on De­cem­ber 9.

With the US impeachmen­t hear­ings closely ex­am­in­ing Mr Trump’s deal­ings with Ukraine, it re­mains to be seen how much ap­petite the pro­tag­o­nists have for com­pro­mise on the is­sue.

Mr Macron is a politi­cian with not only global as­pi­ra­tions – bridg­ing the dif­fer­ences around the Ara­bian Gulf is of­ten men­tioned

– but a man with a clear his­tor­i­cal vi­sion.

This al­lows him to refuse

Em­manuel Macron has global am­bi­tions but has failed to en­list sup­port in his quest for change

to ac­knowl­edge that he has alien­ated east­ern Europe and be­yond with his Nato com­ments. He de­rided the “prig­gish­ness and hypocrisy” of those crit­i­cal of the idea the in­sti­tu­tion was brain-dead.

With Bri­tain leav­ing the EU, there was a chance for Paris and Ber­lin to come to­gether to cre­ate a more ef­fec­tive Euro­pean pres­ence on the world stage. Paris has con­stantly gone out of its way to alien­ate other cap­i­tals. Ber­lin seems less keen to weigh in be­hind its neigh­bour while other smaller states are wary of be­ing led by a du­op­oly in which France was call­ing the shots.

Af­ter the Sec­ond World War, gen­eral Charles De Gaulle recre­ated a sin­gu­lar pro­file for French diplo­macy. The coun­try pulled back from Nato and sought to main­tain a global pres­ence de­spite the painful re­treat from em­pire in Viet­nam and Al­ge­ria. The essence of Gaullist for­eign pol­icy was to be seen as a strong state with its own agenda and ob­jec­tives.

Mr Macron seeks a Gaullist rep­u­ta­tion and works the French ma­chine to that end. The elu­sive chal­lenge for Mr Macron is to shape Euro­pean pol­icy in the same way.

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