🔒 Macron’s bold diplomacy faces domestic scepticism and international unease

In a swiftly changing geopolitical landscape, French President Emmanuel Macron struggles to align European allies with his proactive security measures and military strategies. Despite successfully engaging in defence operations like the recent interception of drones attacking Israel, Macron’s high-stakes approach often oscillates between peacemaker and provocateur, causing unease among stakeholders and faltering domestic support. Bloomberg highlights the challenges and critical moments in Macron’s foreign policy endeavours, underscoring the disconnect between his ambitious global stance and the political and public reception within France.

Sign up for your early morning brew of the BizNews Insider to keep you up to speed with the content that matters. The newsletter will land in your inbox at 5:30am weekdays. Register here.

By Ania Nussbaum

The hostile new world Emmanuel Macron has been warning Europeans about is rapidly emerging but the French president is still struggling to persuade partners to trust his judgment. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Iran’s unprecedented attack on Israel over the weekend was more grim evidence that Macron’s diagnosis of the security challenges facing the European Union is on point. The French were part of the mission that successfully downed most of the incoming drones, underlining their key role in the bloc’s military strategy.

The fundamental problem for Macron is that so far he hasn’t managed to energize either France’s voters or its economic and military might behind his approach, and so is struggling to back up his rhetoric with hard power commensurate to the threats they face. Add to that a preference for high-risk gambits that’s unnerving his most important stakeholders both at home and abroad. 

Macron’s foreign policy positions are usually sound, according to Frederic Charillon, a professor of international relations based in Paris. Only, “if you then want to come out and make a splash to your advantage, it can backfire.”

At every turn Macron’s taken the initiative — and the credit. “Europe is now thinking about its own defense,” he said in a speech at a gunpowder factory in the Dordogne on Thursday. “This has been a real revolution in recent years, and it’s a revolution that has been pushed forward by France.”

While he’s certainly been vocal in agitating for more military aid to Ukraine, the French president’s message has landed awkwardly, at times, as he oscillates unpredictably between peacemaker and provocateur. 

The targets of his exhortations are quick to point out that France’s own metrics on this score are relatively shabby. His finely calibrated tactical pronouncements can end up backfiring. And last week his administration took the unusual step of resuming phone contact after a long hiatus with Russia — which, because the detailed contents of the exchange weren’t made public, turned the overture into an awkward public-relations mess as both sides traded different accounts of the call. 

The aftermath of that incident shows just why allies — and even some inside the French security establishment — are apprehensive over Macron’s bold positions. Their unease is particularly pronounced on account of the Olympics and was exacerbated by the recent terrorist attacks at Moscow’s Crocus City Hall, according to two officials familiar with the situation who asked to remain anonymous.

Macron’s defense minister reached out to his Russian counterpart merely to share intelligence about that attack — or so goes the French account. The Russians said the call centered on the moribund 2022 Istanbul Talks and implicitly, on the possibility of a negotiated end to the Ukraine conflict. That’s something France strongly denies, and which sits at odds with its public messaging. 

In statements evidencing Macron’s eagerness to convert symbolic leadership into hard facts — sometimes stretching the credulity of allies — soon after the thwarted attack on Israel, he called for a worldwide truce to coincide with the Olympic Games taking place in Paris this summer.

The UN General Assembly tends to adopt such a resolution every time the games come around, but it is rarely observed. But Macron really meant it, according to a person familiar with his thinking, who said the president intends to convince his Chinese counterpart to leverage his influence over President Vladimir Putin to make the Olympic truce a reality.

Macron’s attempts to throw the Russian president off guard more often end up rattling his own side. After gathering European leaders to the Palace of Versailles he notoriously refused to rule out the possibility of boots on the ground in Ukraine: an exercise in keeping Putin guessing that prompted the Germans publicly to rule out the idea and so undermine whatever ambiguity had been seeded.

Recruitment also constrains French aspirations of military grandeur. While Russia has around 1.15 million servicemen — amounting to almost the entire population of neighboring Estonia — France has only 200,000. Last year, its infantry recruited 3,000 fewer men than their 16,000 target. 

And though it keeps calling on allies to do more, France’s own aid to Ukraine is lagging, according to the Kiel Institute’s Ukraine Support Tracker. It’s pledged Kyiv less than €2 billion in support, by contrast to Germany’s €22 billion. This is why — even while France’s gung-ho message receives a welcome audience among the states nearest to Russia — Germany does not take kindly to what one official described as Gallic grandstanding. A senior Polish government official expressed a more generous view, saying that through its political efforts, France was compensating for what it had failed to contribute in munitions. 

Last month Macron’s defense minister urged the arms industry to accelerate production of equipment for Ukraine, threatening to requisition companies it thinks are moving too slow. Some in the industry were taken aback by the defense ministry’s public dressing-down, given they consider their plants already to be running at full throttle.

Executives also worry the fiscal backdrop will end up impacting funding even as the president pledged to shield military budgets from cuts. 

New French budget figures risk undermining Macron’s commitment to what he’s called the “war effort.” The government just last week said its deficit will be wider than anticipated this year, and that it would have to find a fresh €10 billion ($11 billion) of savings on top of the same number already announced. 

More perilously, French public opinion is turning against the war. After he placed Ukraine at the forefront of his campaign for the June EU elections, attacking his nemesis Marine Le Pen for her previous ties to the Russian president, polls showed that a majority of French people opposed sending troops. 

Fatigue toward the conflict is patent: while 82% of the French backed Ukraine support after the invasion, right before Macron’s reelection, the figure now stands at 58%, according to Jean-Philippe Dubrulle, a pollster at IFOP.

For now, that’s not putting off France’s leader. In a bid to raise public awareness, the defense ministry has invited future civil servants to practice military exercises in real conditions. 

The possibility of war has already become more real for new recruits. During a speech to the naval officers’ school two years ago, the head of the French Navy warned that, unlike those before them, the generation trained now will probably “experience fire.” According to an attendee, the line sent a chill around the room.

Read also:

© 2024 Bloomberg L.P.

Visited 147 times, 1 visit(s) today