Macron’s Private Pitch on Defense Fails to Bring Europe Together
(Bloomberg) -- Emmanuel Macron made the case for a more assertive European Union foreign policy over a summit dinner on Tuesday and met with mixed reviews from the bloc’s other leaders.
The gathering near the Slovenian capital Ljubljana was the French president’s first opportunity to let off steam with the EU’s heads of government since the loss of a massive submarine deal to the U.S. last month.
Macron told his colleagues that they need to remember that the EU has serious diplomatic leverage as one of the world’s biggest trading blocs and a major investor in the fight against climate change, according to a person with knowledge of their discussions. He told his EU partners they should act with the confidence of a global power.
Yet the tone of his remarks failed to convince some. Two diplomats said the speech had confirmed their leaders’ suspicions that Macron lacks the bridge-building instincts that helped Germany’s Angela Merkel bring the EU together in moments of crisis. They said their bosses had the impression that for all his talk of European sovereignty, Macron was only really concerned about French interests and his own re-election strategy.
With the surge in gas prices offering a reminder of the EU’s vulnerability to adverse shocks, the leaders had gathered to discuss Europe’s place in the world with the first draft of a new defense strategy due in November.
The mood of the conversation was downbeat in many places, with some speakers complaining that Europe has seen its power eclipsed by rising powers in other parts of the world and is no longer respected, the person said. Even Macron appeared frustrated that France is no longer a world power.
The discussion was framed in large measure by Macron’s reaction to seeing France elbowed aside by the U.S. and the U.K. for the contract to supply submarines to the Australian navy.
“This must serve as a wakeup call,” France’s EU minister, Clement Beaune, told reporters the following morning.
Yet France is dialing back its aspirations for common defense projects in the face of the resistance from other member states.
The idea of a 5,000-strong common defense force has been put on the back burner in favor of more viable cooperation on cyber security and containing the Islamist threat in the Sahel region of West Africa, according to one official. That’s an area where even the Baltic countries and Denmark, the most reluctant to embrace the French world view, are willing to collaborate, the official said.
Most member states agree that the EU needs to do more to increase its defense capabilities, according to diplomatic notes seen by Bloomberg. But several countries are suspicious that Macron’s push for “strategic autonomy” will wind up channeling defense contracts to French companies. One senior official at the European Commission told diplomats in the runup to the summit that Macron has a perception problem.
“Having a defense industry is a condition for sovereignty, it’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Beaune said. “The Americans don’t worry about such prudishness.”
The rest of Europe just isn’t quite clear whose sovereignty the French are thinking about.
After the U.S.-U.K. agreement was signed French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian hammered on for days about how France, as an ally, should have been consulted.
But when France signed a comparable deal with Greece two weeks later, the French didn’t properly consult or engage their closest European partners either, according to two EU diplomats.
A French official said Germany and other partners had been aware for months that France was preparing a partnership with Greece.
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