BY: MELISSA TRIMBLE
The recent volatility in world markets and politics, which can mostly be attributed to the United States’ trade wars among other emerging globalization trends, has rendered the so-called global order more unstable than in recent years. As media outlets attempt to follow the main, and increasingly fickle, dialogue, they fail to see that several rarely-highlighted opportunities have emerged, particularly regarding Europe. One leader, however, has noticed this — French President Emmanuel Macron. Mr. Macron has widely acknowledged the need for Europe to unify culturally, economically, and militarily, but he now leverages the shifting international arena to serve as evidence and momentum for his push for reform.
On several occasions during his first year as president, Macron spoke for greater European integration, both economically and militarily, to approving and disapproving audiences. Even before his election in May 2017 he had long campaigned for greater cooperation and integration within the EU, calling for a common fiscal policy, a joint finance minister, and the completion of the banking union foremost. “Europe has to take its fate into its own hands. Because one country breaks its promise doesn’t mean we have to change our course” he said in 2018 as the United States took on bilateral trade negotiations with force. While he acknowledges the arduousness of the task, he also acknowledges that Europeans are the inheritors of the continent’s history and are therefore charged with remembering the lessons learned and avoiding repetition, mainly through greater collaboration.
The concept of a unified “Europe” formed and expanded under American security and leadership. Now these support structures have disappeared, and the EU is left vulnerable to present globalization and, even worse Mr. Macron notes, “the ideas which offer themselves up as preferable solutions”. With an increasingly isolationist United States (ditching the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord), and with Brexit details still being finalized, it’s no wonder Macron feels pressure to keep the EU in solidarity. In September 2017 President Macron spoke at the Sorbonne in Paris discussing his initiative for “a sovereign, united, democratic Europe,” with each adjective broken down into main points. The very first key under Sovereign Europe calls for the establishment of a common defense budget, intervention force and doctrine for action, a proposal that has largely been supported by the U.S. in the past but has most recently been pushed for by the Trump administration.
Macron’s fellow leaders, however, have yet to forego internal political risk to actively support his initiative. In May 2018, Mr. Macron became only the second sitting French president to win the Charlemagne Prize for his “vision of a new Europe”; the prize, established in 1950, is awarded annually for work done in the service of European unification. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while on the one hand delivering the laudation for the Charlemagne Prize and extolling Macron’s valiant efforts, hesitates to take concrete steps due to fears of chaining the German economy to other members’ economic woes (stay tuned for the implications of Greece’s exit from its bailout program this month). Both leaders face low approval ratings (Merkel’s Centre-Right alliance is at an all-time low of 29 percent and Macron, despite 60 percent approval for his international policies, was at 32 percent last month) which jeopardize long-term initiatives and short-term commitments. This is exemplified by the diminishing view of the Franco-German alliance defending European power, unity and identity. But as volatility increases and global superpowers become less predictable, perhaps leaders can forgo stable political careers to take necessary steps to ensure Europe does not become a puppet in the global order.
Chancellor Merkel sees that Europe can no longer rely on the U.S., almost echoing Macron’s sentiments in her 2018 laudation by saying “it is no longer such that the United States simply protects us, but Europe must take its destiny it is own hands, that’s the task of the future”. Yet despite this talk, Macron has made little headway on many of his projects due to disagreements, particularly with his goals for a common eurozone budget, finance minister, joint military reaction force and an EU tax on technology giants’ revenues. During the European Council summit on June 28, 2018, the European Council (made up of the leaders of all EU countries) met to discuss the issues plaguing Europe. They agreed to move forward with the completion of the Banking Union, discussed the projects of the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) and third State participation, and revisited the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. Over the next few months, responsibility lies with each country to ensure flowery speech transforms to tangible action that Macron can work with.
So while President Macron tries to fulfill his campaign promises of addressing greater European integration and cooperation, world events conveniently occurring simultaneously, both economically and politically, are providing an opportunity for him to leverage moving forward. The U.S. is pulling away from multilateral organizations and placing tariffs, Great Britain is delineating its Brexit strategy, and China is actively expanding its Belt and Road Initiative, leaving the EU in a central place to either step up and maintain its standing as one of the largest economic and political players or take a back seat and let other powers dictate world affairs. The question remains will Macron be able to implement his initiative, and will he have the support to see it through?
This article was originally published in Emerging Voices, Young Professionals in Foreign Policy-New York’s publication platform.
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