“Strategic Autonomy” Divides Europe’s Top Liberals

Angela Merkel Ursula von der Leyen Emmanuel Macron Mark Rutte
German chancellor Angela Merkel, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and French president Emmanuel Macron watch Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte walk into a European Council meeting in Brussels, July 18 (European Council)

Emmanuel Macron and Mark Rutte belong to the same European liberal family, but they take different views on the future of the liberal world order.

The French president believes Europe should become less reliant on the United States and foreign trade. He argues for “strategic autonomy” in everything from the digital economy to defense to environmental policy.

The Dutch prime minister has doubts, rooted in decades of Dutch Atlanticism and centuries of overseas trade.

Both have allies.

Macron has the support of German chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, a former German defense minister.

Rutte is backed by smaller countries in Central and Northern Europe as well others in the European Commission. The Financial Times reports that plenty suspect “strategic autonomy” is a fancy way to dress up French protectionism; are wary of formally endorsing the principle if it means undermining NATO and open trade; and are skeptical of the push for reshoring of industry and supply chains.

They have reason to be. Read more ““Strategic Autonomy” Divides Europe’s Top Liberals”

What’s in France’s €100 Billion Stimulus

Emmanuel Macron
French president Emmanuel Macron answers a question from a reporter in Helsinki, Finland, August 30, 2018 (Office of the President of the Republic of Finland/Juhani Kandell)

France has unveiled a $100 billion stimulus program, worth 4 percent of GDP over two years, to help its economy recover from the effects of COVID-19.

The money is split almost equally between support for businesses, investments in the green economy, and health and social programs. It comes on top of the €460 billion France has spent on exemptions from social charges, furlough subsidies and soft loans to keep businesses afloat.

France is counting on the EU to provide 40 percent of the money from its €750 billion recovery fund. Read more “What’s in France’s €100 Billion Stimulus”

Left-Wing Criticism of Macron Isn’t Grounded in Reality

Emmanuel Macron
French president Emmanuel Macron chats with a guard at the Elysée Palace in Paris, December 19, 2017 (Elysée/Ghislain Mariette)

Seventeen left-wing lawmakers have quit President Emmanuel Macron’s party in France and started their own group, called Ecology, Democracy and Solidarity.

The defections have deprived Macron of his absolute majority in the National Assembly. His La République En Marche is down to 288 out of 577 seats, although it still has the support of the centrist Democratic Movement (46 seats) and the center-right Agir (9).

The defectors accuse Macron of shifting to the right and neglecting income inequality and climate change.

That has more to do with perception than reality. Read more “Left-Wing Criticism of Macron Isn’t Grounded in Reality”

Macron’s Idealistic Russia Pragmatism

Vladimir Putin Emmanuel Macron
Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Emmanuel Macron of France meet outside the Palace of Versailles, May 29, 2017 (Elysée)

The 2020 Munich Security Conference saw French president Emmanuel Macron reaffirm his eagerness to turn Russia into a security partner, suggesting that “we have to restart a strategic dialogue.”

But Russia hasn’t been a part of Europe for a while and doesn’t belong in a conversation about European autonomy. The only thing that ties it to Europe is geography. Read more “Macron’s Idealistic Russia Pragmatism”

Macron the Secret Islamophobe

Emmanuel Macron
French president Emmanuel Macron speaks with Renaud Muselier, president of the Regions of France, in Paris, November 15 (Elysée/Kadidia Nimaga)

French president Emmanuel Macron has startled observers with a number of policies that might seem to contradict his previously held beliefs.

Despite being pro-EU, he blocked membership talks with Albania and North Macedonia. Once clear-eyed on the Russian threat, Macron now argues for dialogue with Moscow and calls Islamic terror NATO’s number-one enemy. He even made a point of attacking political Islam.

Some hear dog whistles to the far right, assume bad faith and call Macron an Islamophobe. That is unfair to the most liberal president France has had since Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. Read more “Macron the Secret Islamophobe”

EU Breaks Promise to Balkan States

German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron speak privately while entering a meeting with other European leaders in Brussels, March 22
German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron speak privately while entering a meeting with other European leaders in Brussels, March 22 (Bundesregierung)

Last week, French president Emmanuel Macron blocked the start of EU accession talks for Albania and North Macedonia, arguing that the Balkan states haven’t made enough progress to qualify and that the EU must reform internally before admitting new members.

His concerns were shared by the leaders of Denmark and the Netherlands.

They are not without merit. It would be naive to assume that decades of institutionalized corruption and crime, particularly in Albania, have been washed away over the course of a few years.

That said, progress has been made. North Macedonia’s name change is far from trivial. It represents a willingness to move on from the past. Albania has reformed its judicial system, encouraged by the prospect of membership.

If the French were so adamant about halting enlargement, they should never have made promises to Albania and North Macedonia in the first place.

Poland’s Andrzej Duda said it best: “Western Balkans states are taking part in a race that does not have a finishing line.” Read more “EU Breaks Promise to Balkan States”

Macron’s Pension Reforms Are Eminently Reasonable

Then-Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni of Italy is received by President Emmanuel Macron of France at the Elysée Palace in Paris, September 27, 2017
Then-Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni of Italy is received by President Emmanuel Macron of France at the Elysée Palace in Paris, September 27, 2017 (Elysée)

Having liberalized labor law to make it easier for companies to hire, reined in labor migration from Eastern Europe to protect low-skilled workers in France and shaken up intercity bus service and the state-owned railway company, President Emmanuel Macron — just fighting his way back from the reactionary Yellow Vests protests — is taking on a reform of France’s sprawling pension system.

You can’t accuse the man of not trying. Read more “Macron’s Pension Reforms Are Eminently Reasonable”

Arguments For and Against Macron’s Mercosur Threat

French president Emmanuel Macron answers a question from a reporter in Helsinki, Finland, August 30, 2018
French president Emmanuel Macron answers a question from a reporter in Helsinki, Finland, August 30, 2018 (Office of the President of the Republic of Finland/Juhani Kandell)

French president Emmanuel Macron has threatened to hold up ratification of an EU trade deal with Mercosur unless Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro does more to fight fires in the Amazon Rainforest.

Canada, Finland, Ireland and the Netherlands have backed Macron up. Germany is less sure. Donald Trump is expected to side with Bolsonaro at the G7 summit this weekend.

Here are the arguments for and against the threat. Read more “Arguments For and Against Macron’s Mercosur Threat”

Macron Doesn’t Need to Appease the Far Right

Xavier Bettel Emmanuel Macron Justin Trudeau
French president Emmanuel Macron speaks with Xavier Bettel and Justin Trudeau, the prime ministers of Luxembourg and Canada, at NATO headquarters in Brussels, May 25, 2017 (NATO)

The worst argument against French president Emmanuel Macron’s latest EU reform push — made, among others, by the Russian-born Leonid Bershidsky, who writes for Bloomberg View from Germany, and the Dutch political commentator Peter van Nuijsenburg — is that it only provides ammunition for rival parties opposed to more European integration.

There are fair criticism to be made. Bershidsky also argues that Macron’s call for a European “renaissance” largely consists of adding more EU agencies and that what the bloc really needs is a shared Franco-German vision.

But the idea that less ambitious proposals, or no proposals at all, would appease the Euroskeptics is wrong. Read more “Macron Doesn’t Need to Appease the Far Right”

How Likely Is Macron’s European Renaissance?

French president Emmanuel Macron gives a news conference in Brussels, June 23, 2017
French president Emmanuel Macron gives a news conference in Brussels, June 23, 2017 (Facebook)

In op-eds in newspapers across the continent, French president Emmanuel Macron has called for a renewal, or renaissance, of the European project.

It is his second big push for EU reform since his speech at the Sorbonne in September 2017.

At the time, I divided Macron’s proposals, which ranged from a common eurozone budget to a single European asylum office, into the difficult, doable and low-hanging fruit. (I didn’t get everything right; there is still no single European asylum policy but there will be a eurozone budget, if a much smaller one than Macron envisaged.)

Let’s use the same division this time. Read more “How Likely Is Macron’s European Renaissance?”