Macron's vision for Europe is crumbling – and he can't even blame the Brits - The Telegraph 05.05.22
Article by Fraser Nelson "The French president thought Britain would end up isolated by Brexit. Now reality is beginning to bite".
Ask any government minister about the dismal state of Anglo-French relations, and for about a year or so you will have been given the same response: wait until after the presidential elections! Emmanuel Macron is just being a bit French. He needs to bash les rosbifs to keep his voters happy and it’s just a game. After all, didn’t the Tories send gunships to guard Jersey before last year’s Hartlepool by-election? Worked a treat. When the elections are over, good relations can resume. Twas always thus.
But not this time. It has now been almost two weeks since the French election, and Macron is showing no interest in reviving the bonhomie. Since his re-election he has spoken to Joe Biden, Olaf Scholz and Xi Jinping. He has hugged Narendra Modi in Paris and has even called Vladimir Putin – but has not yet found time to speak to Boris Johnson. Diplomatic inquiries have been made and the message has come back: it’s deliberate. Macron has returned to office with big plans not just for France but Europe – and sees Britain as the problem.
The first issue is Brexit. No 10 wants to revise the Northern Ireland Protocol, saying the east-west customs checks are causing needless uproar in Ulster with hardliners on the march and politics sliding to extremes. Sinn Fein has been leading in the polls and devolution itself looks in danger. Surely, No 10 says, it’s time for a rethink? Surely it’s in no one’s interests for needless border checks to be fuelling extremism?
But Macron is adamant that there should be no compromise, and that Johnson should be left to wallow in his own Brexit-induced misery. He wants to establish a principle: that the 27-member European Union will not be bossed about. Macron is regarded in No 10 as the biggest single impediment to a common-sense solution for the Northern Ireland Protocol. Not because he wants to see Britain suffer for Brexit (although there is a bit of that) but he wants to show the world that the EU’s word is final.
Next, Macron has hoped the Ukraine crisis would catalyse the EU into a defence alliance. “We can no longer depend on others to feed us, care for us, inform us, finance us,” he recently said of Europe. He has called for a “true, European army” – as opposed to Nato – and dreams of a time when there are no American troops on European soil. This is Britain’s nightmare, and Johnson has instead been using the Ukraine crisis to bolster Nato.
The problem for Macron is that Britain has been making quite a bit of headway in selling the globalist vision of European defence. The EU already is a defence 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 come under America’s protection and think it’s the only protection worth having. An American general was on the Swedish island of Gotland earlier this week, underlining this point.
The Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, isn’t even waiting for Sweden and Finland to join Nato before offering them a place under Britain’s nuclear umbrella. Many British people are “descended from Vikings,” he says: cultural ties are strong – so a UK-Scandinavian alliance now seems to be a done deal. In Moscow, meanwhile, bizarre adverts have been popping up on bus stops portraying Swedes as Nazi sympathisers. Battle lines of the future are being drawn – and this time, America stands shoulder-to-shoulder with even more Europeans than in the Cold War.
Even Germany isn’t hedging its bets on European-only defence. Scholz is doubling defence spending but will upgrade to the US Air Force’s F-35 fighters (capable of carrying Nato’s nuclear bombs). Such decisions will link Germany’s future military to America for decades to come.
Macron is also losing the argument on what Nato should do: he’s dead against it moving more into Asia and keeping China in check. But the German Greens, now in government, see the defence of Taiwan as a bedrock of the defence of democracy in general.
Macron’s other problem is that he is not particularly trusted by Eastern Europeans. Just last month, the Polish prime minister caustically remarked of Macron’s recent calls with 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 military after years of training them on how to fight Russians: that was our definition of promoting security for Europe. This chimes more closely with how Sweden, Finland and Poland see things: that alliances need to be of steel, not just words. The Joint Expeditionary Force now active in Eastern Europe is another example of how Britain sees its post-Brexit future: ad-hoc coalitions of the willing, for specific projects.
The defence deal signed between Britain and Japan yesterday is yet another example of this new world of global alliances: if Japan does rearm, Britain hopes to offer its wares. Then there’s the Aukus partnership with the US and Australia which froze out the French, to Macron’s lasting fury. Another ad-hoc coalition of the willing.
None of this need put Britain and France at loggerheads. We’re still the two biggest defence spenders in Europe, big on everything from nuclear submarines to jihadi-hunting in Africa. If Macron is worried that the EU is losing its chance to become a defence alliance, he should be just as angry with the Germans, Finns, Swedes and other Europeans now seeking American protection.
During his election campaign, Macron said that the Ukraine war will reshape not just countries but continents for generations to come. He’s right – but that new shape is now looking more global than only European. All this has given Johnson the chance to say that Britain can manage world affairs just as well, if not better, after Brexit. But perhaps better if he doesn’t make the point. There’s still a war on, more alliances to build – and an entente cordiale to repair.
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French President - Emmanuel Macron