May 30, 2018 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 162

Quo Vadis, Macron?

May 30, 2018 | By Anna Mahjar-Barducci*
Russia | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 162


During the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (24-26 May, 2018), French President Emmanuel Macron stated that Europe stretches from the "Atlantic to the Urals."[1] This idea of a "common European home" for Russia and Europe was supported by French president Gen. Charles de Gaulle, who never questioned that Russia is a part of Europe. It was also a favorite phrase of Mikhail Gorbachev, when he thought of detaching Western Europe from the United States, and became part of his "new thinking."[2]

In a November 23, 1959 speech in Strasbourg, de Gaulle said: "Yes, it is Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals, it is Europe, it is the whole of Europe that will decide the fate of the world." After WWII, France was in a predicament: It felt that it could either choose submission to the new superpower, the U.S. that had saved France from the catastrophe of Nazism - and renounce its dreams of grandeur - or take an anti-U.S. approach so that it could rebuild the global power that it had once had. The second option was more appealing to de Gaulle, and he looked to Russia to build a strong Europe that could counterbalance the American strength and give France an international role as a major power. In this context, de Gaulle pursued a policy of "national independence" that led him to withdraw from NATO's military integrated command, a move still appreciated today in Moscow.[3]

By quoting de Gaulle, Macron seems to send a message of rapprochement to Russian president Vladimir Putin. The French president visited Russia, in a moment in which France is in strong disagreement with the Trump administration over the withdrawal from the JCPOA. France, which supports the nuclear deal, wants to show its "national independence" from Washington. In fact, Macron believes that by standing up against Trump's decision and sanctions, he can assert a "European sovereignty,"[4] which has become his leitmotiv, and therefore bolster his claims to leadership in Europe.

By his meeting with Putin, Macron cast doubt on his commitment to trans-Atlantic relations, and – channeling de Gaulle - showed a desire to break with the concept of a unipolar order and the trans-Atlantic alliance. "To be clear, I want to put an end to this insufficient sovereignty, which, perhaps, was the case in Europe before," stressed Macron.[5] The French President also set aside his animosity and disagreements with Russia, which characterized his policy in the past,[6] and celebrated a new understanding with his counterpart.

Putin quickly seized the opening and suggested a new strategic alliance with France: "Emmanuel said that Europe and the United States have mutual obligations. Europe depends on the U.S. in terms of security. But there is no need to worry, we can help with security. At any rate, we will do everything we can to prevent any new threats. I think we need to take this road."[7]

In view of this major ideological, political reversal, the importance of French participation in the April 14, 2018 punitive strike against Syria, together with Britain and the U.S. should be seriously discounted. France as the putative leader of a European "third force" has loosed its commitment to the trans-Atlantic alliance.

*Anna Mahjar-Barducci is Project Director of the Russian Media Studies Project


[1] See video.

[2] See Gorbachev's speech "Europe as a Common Home," address to the Council of Europe, July 6, 1989.

[5], May 26, 2018.

[6] In his first meeting with Putin in May, 2017, Macron attacked the Russian state-backed media outlets RT and Sputnik, called them "agents of influence and propaganda" and accused them of spreading "serious falsehoods.", May 29, 2017.

[7], May 26, 2018.

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