September 19, 2018

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What will France’s foreign policy be under Emmanuel Macron presidency?

By Corneliu Pivariu.

After around six months since taking over the presidential mandate (14 May 2017), president Emmanuel Macron’s foreign policy begins to take shape after he made tours abroad in Eastern and Central Europe (Austria, Romania and Bulgaria and met political leaders of Slovakia and the Czech Republic), in West Africa (Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Ghana), Middle East – United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia.

What president Macron contemplates in his foreign policy is to restore France’s status of great power in matters of foreign policy (the status of permanent member of the UN Security Council with veto power together with that of nuclear power are essential elements for this role) whereby security issues play the foremost part.

France is placed on the first line of fighting terrorism (especially in Syria and Iraq, according to president Macron’s statements) and, in the last speech delivered at Versailles, the president named the enemy – the Islamic terrorism (something the previous president refused to specify). The military component plays an important role in this regard and the defense budget for 2018 will witness a “historical increase” so that the army dispose of a genuine deterrence capacity, will be modernized to confront the challenges, without reaching “the stage of militarizing the international relations”.

“France’s army must remain one of the main European armies and the second biggest in the free world” – president Macron said in his 29 August speech in Paris.

In the Gulf, president Macron attended the opening of the Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi – an illustration of high level cultural diplomacy, after which he paid a surprise visit to Riyadh (our sources say that the French ambassador in Riyadh who wished to visit Hariri was subject to corporal and car control, a violation of diplomatic norms – which speeded up president Macron’s move) where he met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and stepped in favour of the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri who has resigned in obscure circumstances while he was in the Saudi capital.

As a result, before coming back to Beirut, Hariri visited Paris. That little achievement cannot hide the reality that France has not enough means for being a dominant player in the Gulf. Even if it succeeded in solving Hariri’s case, France lost much of the historic role it could have played in Lebanon and we do not think it could easily recover that role.

As for the European Union, Emmanuel Macron is one of the few European leaders to say things frankly: “Today, Europe functions badly, sometimes even very badly… and Brexit is just another expression of this phenomenon”. Nevertheless, his initiatives, including the one concerning the common defense, need a strong and stable partnership with Germany. For the time being, Angela Merkel tries to overcome the difficulties faced by forging a governing coalition and the possible alliance with Martin Schultz’s social-democrats, who back the reform agenda contemplated by France, could be a favourable factor for president Macron.

Another area of important opportunities is Russia and here we recall president Macron’s clear and open position upon president Putin’s first visit to Paris. The French president did not assess completely yet the possibilities and still does not want to cooperate with Moscow, something that could be useful for the EU’s diplomacy in Ukraine and particularly for a post-conflict solution in Syria.

In most of the situations, France does not possess the means for determining alone the international developments yet it has the capacity and experience of using the international developments to back its interests and president Macron seems well prepared for such an exercise. But the present international diplomacy has difficult to predict evolutions and we do not know to what extent Macron can and will want to adapt himself to such evolutions.

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About the author:

Corneliu Pivariu, former first deputy for military intelligence (two stars general) in the Romanian MoD, retired 2003. Member of IISS – London, alumni of Harvard – Kennedy School Executive Education and others international organizations. Founder of INGEPO Consulting, and bimonthly Bulletin, Geostrategic Pulse”. Main areas of expertise – geopolitics, intelligence and security.

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Photographer: Ionus Paraschiv.

 

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