BY: MICHAEL GERINI
With United States President Donald J. Trump contributing to the decrease of America’s soft power, the British are fleeing the continent like the Hundred Year’s War has just come to an end. Likewise, in Germany, the Teflon Chancellor has finally been corroded by her migrant policy. While many Western powers continue to be in disarray, France under the young, dynamic Emmanuel Macron seems poised to reassert itself on the world stage.
Since the beginning of the Cold War, France has been relegated to the ranks of second-rate powers. Despite its leaders’ ambitions, the dominance of Germany within the European Union and the United Kingdom’s robust economy have made France’s relative decline that much more apparent. Recent events, however, may have turned the tide. With both nations in political confusion, the ambitious President Macron seems to be attempting a reclamation of France’s place among the first-rate powers.
The diplomatic offensive at the start of his presidency is not atypical for a French leader but it has been performed with much more success than President Hollande and much less boisterously than President Sarkozy.
The most visible arm of Pres. Macron’s statecraft has been his efforts in the Middle East. He has brought a straightforward, pragmatic approach to a region devoid of any unifying leadership. Though unpopular both around the world and domestically Macron is the first leader of a major Western Power to unequivocally state that Bashar al-Assad’s departure from Syria is not a precondition for peace negotiations. This shift in France’s position displays an acknowledgement of a cold reality but it also buys France more negotiating power with Russia and Iran on the future of Syria.
In Qatar, France has recently agreed to sell $14 billion worth of military and commercial aviation equipment. Deals on arms and military equipment are nothing new, however, the political climate it was conducted and the very public nature of the announcement are something to be noted. Recently, Saudi Arabia and several other Arab nations have attempted to blockade the tiny emirate. The arms deal and President Macron’s announcement sent a clear message to the Saudis that France will make its own policies in the Middle East.
The most interesting portion of President Macron’s Middle East ventures was certainly his foray into Saudi Arabia on behalf of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who was forced by his Saudi benefactors to resign the premiership under house arrest. Six days after Hariri was forced to resign, President Macron was in Riyadh for an unscheduled meeting with the Saudi Crown Prince. Eight days later, Hariri was in Paris and on his way back to Beirut to be restored to the premiership. Through his direct visit to the Crown Prince and his ability to secure physical control of Lebanon’s Prime Minister, President Macron has displayed the weight his personal presence brings to a negotiation. Macron’s efforts was not simply requesting the ‘release’ of a Lebanese politician, but this was a demand made by an aspirational world leader.
France has always been covetous of its former colonies. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Africa. The informal network of Françafrique has reaped both economic and political rewards for France, as well as the African nations involved. Of the nineteen nations visited by President Macron since taking office, six have been African. These African trips have been mainly to France’s former West African colonies, with Ghana being the one notable exception. President Macron has stated that he wants to reset France’s relations with its former colonies in Africa. His stated aim is to end France’s paternalistic relationship with West Africa and he aims to do this by shifting France’s focus in Africa from aid to economic development.
This shift will be both beneficial for the receiving African nations and for France. Any economic development in Françafrique will undoubtedly benefit French companies, as they have established local networks and history in these nations. The strengthening of French companies in Africa will not only benefit metropolitan France (whose economy is at times anemic), but will also provide a counter-balance to Chinese companies who have recently led the way by committing to new economic investments in Africa.
While Chinese companies and its government have a policy of non-interference in the political affairs of African nations, France is deeply intertwined in them. French involvement in West Africa is a double-edged sword. There are times when France chose to give tacit or outright support to corrupt or dictatorial governments, but it also brought French troops to West Africa to fight militants and to restore order during times of civil unrest. President Macron is acutely aware of this intimacy; his presidential trips show it.
Still, nowhere is France’s potential to rise more apparent than in Europe. Ardently pro-European President Macron wishes to strengthen the EU in various ways, such as by pushing for greater EU integration, both socially and economically through the Eurozone. With Germany in political deadlock, the only other potential leader of the EU is France under President Macron. For the time being he has the maneuverability to shape EU institutions in many ways. He and many Europeans believe the EU to be “too weak, too slow, and too inefficient.” As one of the few major European leaders with political capital to expend, Macron is set to begin his efforts at reformation.
Though Germany will eventually emerge from its current political stalemate, with Merkel most likely remaining Chancellor, she will be in a weakened position. If President Macron manages the current leadership vacuum in Europe strategically, and if Merkel does emerge weakened, he will have effectively re-balanced the power structure in Europe which for the past decade has strongly favored Germany.
President Macron has been handed a geopolitical situation that previous French presidents couldn’t fathom: a leadership crisis in the Western World. Though in relative decline both in Europe and the world since the end of World War II, France is in a position to compensate for much of its lost ground. If President Macron’s aggressive and, at times, deeply personal style of diplomacy succeed, he could see France rise to be a leader in the Western World.
Michael Gerini is a young journalist with a specialty in foreign affairs.
Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.