Is Macron right?

Following on from yesterday, the Finacial Times says, in an editorial, that French President “Emmanuel Macron has issued a dire warning: an “exceptionally fragile” Europe will disappear “if it can’t think of itself as a global power” … [and his] … “alarm call demands careful consideration — even if his plea for an EU defence alliance to replace a “brain-dead” Nato has angered allies on both sides of the Atlantic … [because the FT opines] … Mr Macron’s conception of Europe and its place in the world is remarkably cogent. It is hard to imagine any of his western counterparts speaking off the cuff with such eloquence. The EU, he told The Economist, was built to be America’s junior partner. This worked fine under benevolent US leadership, but that began to fade a decade ago. … [but, now] … squeezed between American and Chinese superpowers and with authoritarian regimes threatening its backyard, Europe is being marginalised. Opened to new member states, but without more closely integrated policies or a bigger budget, the EU has been left talking only the language of business and trade. What should be a political community lacks the “grammar of power and sovereignty”.

Now, in my opinion, underlying President Macron’s very cogent analysis is a traditional (since 1919) French strategic quest: How do we make Germany pay to advance Franc’s special interests?

MIT-China-Emissions_0Caribbean_reef_shark-58d928ef3df78c5162d1cadeBut, that aside, he’s correct that Europe is caught in the middle between the American leviathan and the rising Chinese behemoth. Neither cares about Europe, except as a profitable trading partner.

Here, by the way, is a transcript of President Macron’s remarks, made to The Economist.

The FT makes the point that “The French leader wants a Europe with strategic autonomy that can act as a balancing power. Europe,” he suggests, “should not be compelled to treat the enemy (China or Russia) of its friend (America) as its enemy. The Gaullist strands in Mr Macron’s thinking are easy to discern. He is, after all, a keen student of the general … [and] … There is also a hint of French nostalgia for a smaller, more political EU where Paris held greater sway. Mr Macron blames enlargement for the EU’s loss of direction …. [and I believe he is right, but the article says] …  Italian dysfunctionality, German freeriding, British scepticism and French weakness are bigger reasons.

But the fact that President Macron may be right about what ails Europe, including NATO, is neither here not here because he offers no sensible solutions. A European military? The Germans don’t want one and are unwilling to pay for it. A common industrial policy? That’s what the modern EU is supposed to be all about and there are success stories, like Airbus, but, generally, the EU’s policies have been about subsidies and protectionism, not growing economies. President Trump is a transient problem, he’ll be gone by January 2025, at the latest. But America’s focus on its own vital interests, which often differ from Europe’s, will persist. Europe can work … but not in the form that President Macron wants, not with France as its leader. For better or worse, the real capital of Europe is in Berlin, not in Brussels or Strasbourg. Paris is, like Prague and Rome and Warsaw, a provincial capital, nothing more.

NATO is strategically “blind” because neither Berlin nor Washington wants to see that Putin’s Russia is a very real threat to Euro-American vital interests and because Putin is not going to risk actual warfare ~ he pushes and pinches and picks our pockets, now and again, but he knows he cannot wage and win an aggressive war.

Like it or not, China is likely to be the winner in the ongoing Europe vs. American trade disputes. But President Trump actually thinks believes that a) trade wars are good things, and b) he understands how to win one; neither is even remotely true. China has extended its belt and road initiative into Europe. Again, lie it or not, Europe is being squeezed by both America and China and it lacks the will or the muscle to squeeze back.

I think Macron is right in suggesting that Europe needs to “man up” and assert itself. He’s wrong to think that France is able to lead in that. Germany is in the process of losing its most valued and trusted strategic partner as the Brexit moves closer and closer to reality. Europe needs to be reshaped, and that might include rethinking NATO, too. Britain, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland need to be persuaded that there is room in Europe for them but that means that Europe must be a multi-tiered structure so that free(er) trade and national sovereignty can coexist.

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