GEOPOLITICS OF FRANCE: WILL MACRON MAKE EUROPE A SUPER POWER
The 21st century brings great changes for the world order. The French recognize these and want Europe to keep up with the US and China. Will France lead Europe towards a superpower? Welcome to the next episode of The 20s Report.
How President Macron plans to capture Africa's demographic wave by using the French language, with the ultimate goal to cement French hegemony worldwide. BAKU - For centuries, France was a global powerhouse, permeating its will over five continents. Since those imperial days, it has lost considerable ground in its former domains. Only in Africa did France retain its hold, owing to the monetary system that was put in place. In the decade after World War II, President François Mitterand was quoted saying: “Without Africa, France will have no history in the 21st century.” Like a foretelling coming true, it is precisely because of Africa that modern-day France is returning as the global force it once was. And it’s using the soft power attributes of language to cement its hegemony
After Germans vote Sunday and a new government is formed, Chancellor Angela Merkel will leave office after 16 years as the dominant figure in European politics. It is the moment that French President Emmanuel Macron has been waiting for.
The German chancellor, although credited for navigating multiple crises, was long criticized for lacking strategic vision. Macron, whose more swaggering style has sometimes ruffled his European partners — and Washington — has put forward ideas for a more independent and integrated Europe, better able to act in its own defense and its own interests.
But as the Anglo-American “betrayal” in the Australian submarine affair has underscored, Macron sometimes possesses ambitions beyond his reach. Despite the vacuum Merkel leaves, a Macron era is unlikely to be born.
Instead, analysts say, the European Union is heading for a period of prolonged uncertainty and potential weakness, if not necessarily drift. No one figure — not even Macron or a new German chancellor — will be as influential as Merkel was at her strongest: an authoritative, well-briefed leader who quietly managed compromise and built consensus among a long list of louder and more ideological colleagues.
That raises the prospect of paralysis or of Europe muddling through its challenges — on what to do about an increasingly indifferent America, on China and Russia, and on trade and technology — or even of a more dangerous fracturing of the bloc’s always tentative unity.
And it will mean that Macron, who is up for reelection in April and absorbed in that uncertain campaign, will need to wait for a German government that may not be in place until January or longer, and then work closely with a weaker German chancellor.
“We’ll have a weak German chancellor on top of a larger, less unified coalition,” said Mujtaba Rahman, managing director for Europe of the Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy. “A weaker chancellor is less capable of exerting influence in Europe, and then with the Macron election, the political cycles of these two key countries will not be in sync.”
The uncertainty is likely to last until after the French parliamentary elections in June — and that is presuming Macron wins.
Macron has argued forcefully that Europe must do more to protect its own interests in a world where China is rising and the United States is focusing on Asia. His officials are already trying to prepare the ground on some key issues, looking forward to January, when France takes over the rotating EU presidency. But given the likelihood of lengthy coalition talks in Germany, the window for accomplishment is narrow.
Macron will need German help. While France and Germany together can no longer run the European Union by themselves, when they agree, they tend to bring the rest of the bloc along with them.
So building a relationship with the new German chancellor, even a weaker one, will be a primary goal for Macron. He must be careful, noted Daniela Schwarzer, executive director for Europe and Eurasia of the Open Societies Foundations, not to scare off the Germans.
“Macron’s leadership is disruptive, and the German style is to change institutions incrementally,” she said. “Both sides will need to think through how they make it possible for the other side to answer constructively.”
French officials understand that substantive change will be slow, and they will want to build on initiatives already underway, like the analysis of Europe’s interests called “the strategic compass” and a modest but steady increase in military spending on new capabilities through the new European Defense Fund and a program called Pesco, intended to promote joint projects and European interoperability.
After the humiliation of the scuttled submarine deal, when Australia suddenly canceled a contract with France and chose a deal with Britain and the United States instead, many of his European colleagues are more likely now to agree with Macron that Europe must be less dependent on Washington and spend at least a little more in its own defense.
Few in Europe, though, want to permanently damage ties with the Americans and NATO.
“Italy wants a stronger Europe, OK, but in NATO — we’re not on the French page on that,” said Marta Dassu, a former Italian deputy foreign minister and director of European affairs at the Aspen Institute.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, whose voice is respected in Brussels, believes strongly in the trans-Atlantic relationship, Dassu said, adding, “We’re closer to Germany than to France, but without all the ambiguities on Russia and China.”
France also wants to become more assertive using the economic and financial tools Europe already has, especially trade and technology, the officials say. The point, they say, is not to push too hard too fast, but to raise the European game vis-à-vis China and the United States, and try to encourage a culture that is comfortable with power.
But France’s German partners will be going through a period of uncertainty and transition. A new German chancellor is expected to win only one-quarter of the vote and may need to negotiate a coalition agreement among three political parties. That is expected to take at least until Christmas, if not longer.
The new chancellor will also need to get up to speed on European issues, which barely surfaced in the campaign, and build credibility as the newcomer among 26 other leaders.
“So it’s important now to start thinking of concrete French-German wins during a French presidency that Macron can use in a positive way in his campaign,” Schwarzer said. “Because Berlin does not want to ponder a scenario in which Macron loses” to far-right Marine Le Pen or in which euroskeptics like Matteo Salvini take over in Italy.
Whoever wins, German policy toward Europe will remain roughly the same from a country deeply committed to EU ideals, cautious and wanting to preserve stability and unity. The real question is whether any European leader can be the cohesive force Merkel was — and if not, what it will mean for the continent’s future.
“Merkel herself was important in keeping the EU together,” said Ulrich Speck of the German Marshall Fund. “She kept in mind the interests of so many in Europe, especially Central Europe but also Italy, so that everyone could be kept on board.”
Merkel saw the European Union as the core of her policy, said a senior European official, who called her the guardian of true EU values, willing to bend to keep the bloc together, as evidenced by her support for collective debt, previously a German red line, to fund the coronavirus recovery fund.
“Merkel acted as mediator when there have been a lot of centrifugal forces weakening Europe,” said Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, head of the Berlin office of the German Marshall Fund. “It’s less clear how the next chancellor will position himself or herself and Germany.”
Still, Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, noted that “whoever is the chancellor, Germany is still responsible for more than half of Chinese trade with Europe.” Germany is “vastly more important than the other countries on all the big issues, from how to handle China to the tech wars and climate change,” he said.
That means Macron “knows he has to channel German power behind his vision,” he said.
But French and Italian positions will be crucial, too, on important pending financial issues like fiscal and banking integration, trying to complete the single market and monitoring the pandemic recovery fund.
Merkel’s departure may provide an opportunity for the kinds of change Macron desires, even if in vastly scaled-down version. Merkel’s love of the status quo, some analysts argue, was anachronistic at a time when Europe faces so many challenges.
Perhaps most important is the looming debate about whether to alter Europe’s spending rules, which in practical terms means getting agreement from countries to spend more on everything, from defense to climate.
The real problem is that fundamental change would require a treaty change, said Guntram Wolff, director of Bruegel, a Brussels research institution. “You can’t have fiscal and defense integration by stealth,” he said. “It won’t have legitimacy and won’t be accepted by citizens.”
But the German election debates ignored these broad issues, he said.
“The sad news,” Wolff said, “is that none of the three chancellor candidates campaigned on any of this, so my baseline expectation is continued muddling forward.”
Who will lead Europe after Merkel? Presidents and prime ministers jockey for the job.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel prepares to lead the last cabinet meeting of the German government ahead of the national elections.
As Germany prepares to elect its next chancellor Sunday, Europe is readying itself for a major shake-up of the unofficial hierarchy of continental leaders.
In nearly 16 years at the helm of Europe’s largest economy, Angela Merkel became the de facto representative on the world stage and the European Union’s chief power broker through countless late-night negotiations and a string of crises.
Germany will continue to wield immense influence. However, Merkel’s experience and reputation give her clout that none of her potential successors as chancellor could hope to match anytime soon. And so her departure will create an opening — for the first time in more than a decade — for other leaders to assert themselves and their vision for Europe.
A few favorites have emerged in the competition. French President Emmanuel Macron, head of the European Union’s second-biggest economy, has been jockeying for years to be the next leader of Europe. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, best known for saving the euro while president of the European Central Bank, also has several of the necessary credentials.
But analysts, politicians and diplomats tend to agree that no one person is capable of filling Merkel’s loafers. Instead, they say, it will probably involve a coterie of premiers — probably all of them men.
“Merkel’s exit creates a problem with leadership, a hole at the heart of Europe,” said Giovanni Orsina, director of Luiss Guido Carli University’s School of Government in Rome. “Either the new chancellor fills that void, or we need to conceive of a collective convergence.”
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There will be a marked shift in the balance of power, said a senior E.U. diplomat, and other European leaders will have to step up.
“This cannot only be done by one. It has to be done by the group,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive political situation.
Merkel isn’t expected to leave office immediately after the election. The results are likely to be messy, and coalition talks could go through the end of the year — or beyond. Merkel would stay on as a caretaker until a new government is formed.
And then? Whoever steps into the job — the candidates include Armin Laschet, Olaf Scholz and Annalena Baerbock — would need time to settle in, and to establish themselves, before they could expect to command the sort of attention that Merkel has in Europe and internationally.
“Any German chancellor will move into a powerful position,” said Daniela Schwarzer, executive director for Europe and Eurasia at the Open Society Foundations. “Any next German chancellor will bring some experience and bring the same weight of the country to the table, but the personal weight will not be the same.”
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If Britain were still in the European Union, some of the power might shift across the English Channel. But in a post-Brexit world, London cannot expect to speak on behalf of the continent.
So, many heads are turning toward Paris.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron meet for a working dinner at the Élysée Palace in Paris on Sept. 16. (Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images)
“The German elections are being seen in France as an opportunity for a reset, where whoever comes in will have less stature than Macron does and whereby France’s influence in Europe would be increased,” said Nicholas Dungan, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
Macron has been preparing for this moment. He has repeatedly sought to emphasize his foreign policy experience, drawing a contrast with the German chancellor candidates, who spent most of their televised debates bickering about domestic politics.
Macron also has spent years outlining his vision for Europe.
In 2017, after another German election, he delivered a sweeping speech at Sorbonne University, arguing that the best response to ascendant nationalists was to acknowledge the European Union’s shortcomings — it is “too weak, too slow, too inefficient” — and then to work to make it stronger and more united.
He has reprised the theme many times. But his proposals — to integrate European defense, reform the euro zone, develop a common asylum policy and impose a new tax on U.S. tech giants — have not been enthusiastically embraced.
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The French president has lately been using the chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal, and a fight with the Biden administration over a nuclear submarine deal, to reiterate a call for European “strategic independence.” Other E.U. leaders have said they stand with France in the submarine spat, and they are equally frustrated about Afghanistan. Still, the idea of an E.U. military is far from becoming a reality.
Macron’s mandate as Europe-wide leader may depend in part on how much progress he makes when France takes over the Council of the European Union’s rotating six-month presidency in January — as well as on his showing in France’s presidential election in April. His main competitor, far-right leader Marine Le Pen, has a radically different view of the European project.
“To the question who will take the mantle, you already know the answer: It will be Macron,” an E.U. diplomat said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment. “The next question is: Will he retain the mantle?”
The determining factor, the diplomat said, may be whether Macron can learn to compromise.
“Macron has the tools and the chance to, for now, fill that void,” the diplomat said. “But he will only stay there in that position if he manages to bridge the gap between him and his way of doing things, and the east and the north and everybody else. That was Merkel’s way.”
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Merkel’s critics, however, sometimes hold that against her. They say she delayed decisions at the E.U. level in an effort to preserve consensus and avoid conflict — and while doing so allowed for the erosion of democratic norms in countries such as Hungary and Poland. Her approach even earned its own verb: “Merkeln,” meaning to dither or bide one’s time.
“During the Merkel era, one always tried to handle and solve things among the 27, often postponing until the very last minute the required solutions for Europe, because of Merkel’s conviction that results could only be yielded by standing together,” said Sandro Gozi, a veteran Italian politician who now represents France in the European Parliament as part of Macron’s centrist “Renaissance” list.
“I believe Macron and Draghi can make all the difference here,” Gozi said.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, left, and French President Emmanuel Macron walk together before a dinner in Marseille, France, on Sept. 2. (Ludovic Marin/AP)
The French president and Italian prime minister were dubbed Europe’s “new power couple” by Politico in July, amid reports of a transalpine bromance. The two men, separated in age by 30 years, are both former investment bankers and longtime E.U. boosters, and have similar goals for the 27-nation bloc, especially on fiscal policies, where both favor further financial integration.
“I believe that in this new phase, leadership could be collective,” Gozi said. “I see Macron and Draghi as protagonists of that.”
At first, their leadership of Europe would be “two-legged,” Gozi said, but it would eventually include the new German chancellor. Indeed, many observers expect Macron would need strong German partnership to execute the most ambitious of his plans. But Gozi said the result would be “less Merkel-ian” — with faster action and less caution.
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Draghi has been positioning himself to take on a greater leadership role, observers say. He was a prominent voice in Europe’s reaction to the Afghanistan withdrawal, pushing for an emergency summit of the G-20, criticizing the European Union’s disorganized stance on accepting refugees, and calling President Biden during the evacuation efforts. In March, Draghi made headlines when he blocked the export of a batch of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine doses from the European Union amid a shortage inside the bloc. And he has been talking of using nearly $235 billion in E.U. money to enact an “epochal” pandemic recovery.
But his own sway may be limited by the size and influence of his country.
“The problem across history is not only who you are but the kind of car you’re driving,” said Orsina, of Luiss Guido Carli University. “Some things you can only do if you’re Germany, otherwise it’s that much harder, regardless of the leader’s personality.”
A number of other leaders will be elbowing for a more important role, including Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Both share one obvious trait with their counterparts in France and Italy: They’re men.
After Merkel’s departure, council summits risk taking on the feel of an old boys’ club, said Open Society’s Schwarzer.
“There’s a certain element of having a female leader at the table — the balance will shift in that regard, as well, and that does make a difference in group dynamics,” she said. “Not only what happens in the room but the reception of politics.”
Some Europeans are sure to welcome Merkel’s egress as a chance for potential realignment and more substantive reforms to the European Union.
The Merkel era “has led to a Europe that is highly dependent on Germany and Germany’s choices,” said Rosa Balfour, the director of Carnegie Europe. “The gravity of power has shifted to Berlin, and it hasn’t been all for the good of the rest of Europe. If there’s a slight change in the balance of power, tipped in the favor of a broader pioneering group, from a European perspective there could be benefit in that.”
Critics argue, for instance, that Germany’s response to the euro-zone debt crisis and its push for austerity measures did deep and lasting damage to Greece and Italy, Balfour said.