There was a lot of anticipation for the visit of the French President to the United States. A lot of column inches and words have been said on what was done, how the two hugged, how their spouses were dressed and the rest.
The first few reports were more focused on the packaging. It was portrayed as a bromance. There was also a hint about the ‘patronising’ role of Trump. At times it verged on the glamourous.
But on Wednesday, as his three-day visit drew to a close, Macron addressed the Congress statin and as an analysis by Ishaan Tharoor, carried on the Washington put it, there was a dramatical shift from the plot as expressed yet.
Macron’s speech was a comprehensive rejection of the main tenets of Trumpism, rubbing off “extreme nationalism” and protectionism. He also championed climate-change science and defended the international liberal order. The message, which resonates and is required even in Europe, he stated “You can play with anger and fear for a time,” Macron said, alluding to the themes that fuel right-wing nationalist movements in the West, “but they do not construct anything.”
Macron’s message is very consistent to the one he delivered at the European Parliament the previous week. In his first address to EU lawmakers, he said a robust democracy is the “best chance” for the European Union to fight against rising nationalism on the continent.
His speech was set within the context of the recent elections in Hungary and Macron criticising the temptation of anti-liberalism of Viktor Orbán. In Strasbourg he said “Confronted with authoritarianism, the answer is not an authoritarian democracy but the authority of democracy,” he said.
“Faced with authoritarianism, the answer is not democratic authoritarianism but the authority of democracy,” Macron said, urging EU countries to defend the values of liberty, equality and diversity that underpin the European model – one he described as “unique in the world”. “I don’t want to belong to a generation of sleepwalkers, I don’t want to belong to a generation that’s forgotten its own past,” Macron added.
These statements need to be seen within the political sphere these are done and how things are evolving at a European and global level. Within the European sphere, Germany’s Merkel has lost the strong leadership role, Theresa May is busy with BREXIT, Italy’s future isn’t clear without a strong leader at the helm and the other countries leaders are busy combating internal pressures from various issues. This ‘leadership’ vacuum created the right space for Macron to step in and leave a mark.
Last year, he also presented his vision for Europe, as part of the debate which followed the paper on the Future of Europe presented by Jean Claude Juncker. He argued that the time when “France proposes is back. At this moment, I am thinking of Robert Schuman, who dared to propose building Europe, in Paris on 9 May 1950. I remember his powerful words: ‘A united Europe was not achieved and we had war.”
Three weeks ago, France took part in the airstrikes on Syria. France’s participation was a bold statement too. Last year, Macron said “when you set out red lines, if you are unable to enforce them, then you decide to be weak. Macron’s repeated warnings that France was prepared to strike in case chemical weapons were used in Syria were tested when at the beginning of April as at least 42 people have been found suffocated to death in rebel-held suburb of Douma by a chlorine like substance. He did act, confirming his stance and position.
When Macron, rewrote all basic rules of French politics and became president, his innovative disruptive style of politics appealed to those who believed that change could happen without the need to resort to populism. His style is trying to be applied in Europe, but not successful yet. Yet, he’s not giving up on his mission which is supported by his youth, enthusiasm and political acumen. In doing so, he’s trying to be the ‘voice of change, reasonable change’ at a global level. Will he succeed? It’s to be seen. For sure, these steps are all in one direction, that of becoming a global leader and in the process re-instating France’s leadership role in the global political sphere.
This article is written by Diplomatique|Expert Managing Partner Jesmond Saliba.