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.
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.)
Commentators outside France have been predicting Emmanuel Macron’s downfall from the beginning of his presidency.
My own view throughout has been that unpopularity is unlikely to keep Macron up at night. He has been reforming France so thoroughly and at such a fast pace that he was bound to make enemies everywhere. He has a long-enough mandate (five years) to see his reforms bear fruit. And because both the center-left and center-right are in disarray, there is no strong opposition against him.
That threatened to change this winter, when opponents of a fuel-tax increase donned fluorescent yellow vests and took to the streets. Suddenly reactionary France had a movement. Polls showed massive support. Macron hastily canceled the tax hike, the first time he had bowed to public pressure. His political obituaries were being rewritten again. Read more “Macron Fights His Way Back”
Protests against a fuel tax increase in France have morphed into violent demonstrations against the presidency of Emmanuel Macron.
This weekend alone, 260 rioters were arrested in Paris, where cars were set ablaze and stores looted. A woman was killed in Marseille when a protester threw a tear gas canister through the window of her home.
The so-called Yellow Vests movement, named after the fluorescent safety vests French motorists are required to keep in their cars, started in opposition to higher taxes on diesel and gasoline. The increases are meant to help France meets its climate goals.
Diesel tax would rise 6.5 cents per liter, gasoline tax 2.9 cents. Leonid Bershidsky of Bloomberg calculates that the average motorist would end up paying €13 more per month. Hardly worth setting Paris on fire for.
Macron is a former investment banker who styles himself as a liberal champion of the European Union. Salvini, the leader of Italy’s far-right League party, has emerged as Europe’s leading nationalist — one who has pledged to bring the European project to a crashing halt.
Stephen Walt argues in Foreign Policy that the diplomatic crisis around the Iran nuclear deal shows European leaders don’t know how to handle an American bully:
[I]nstead of getting tough with Trump and warning him that Europe would both stick to the deal and defy any subsequent US effort to impose secondary sanctions on them, [France, Germany and the United Kingdom] chose to mollify and flatter Trump instead.
It seems to no avail.
It pains me to admit it, but Walt has a point:
[T]he European response to Trump shows how successfully the United States has tamed and subordinated the former great powers that once dominated world politics. After seventy-plus years of letting Uncle Sam run the show, European leaders can barely think in strategic terms, let alone act in a tough-minded fashion when they are dealing with the United States.
I do think this is slowly changing. Trump is a wakeup call. The EU is rushing new trade agreements with Japan and Mexico. France is leading efforts to deepen European defense cooperation outside NATO. The Balts and Scandinavians are remilitarizing.