BrusselsViewPoint – What happens after Macron calls you brain-dead?

epa07998987 French President Emmanuel Macron reacts to the pouring rain as he awaits the arrival of European Council's president Charles Michel (unseen) at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, 15 November 2019. EPA-EFE/IAN LANGSDON

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This article appeared on CorporateDispatch’s Weekly journal ‘Diplomatique.Expert’ published electronically on November 16th. 

It’s a sight Brussels has become all too familiar with: everything is going smooth, until Macron comes to turn everything on its head.

The French President recently said that intergovernmental military alliance NATO is now ‘brain dead’, in an interview with The Economist that left many shaking their heads.

During the extensive interview, he insisted Europe needed to wake up and improve its defence and security, arguing there was a collapse of US and EU strategic cooperation in NATO.

Pushing for more EU-wide independence on defence matters, he said “If we don’t wake up … there’s a considerable risk that in the long run we will disappear geopolitically, or at least that we will no longer be in control of our destiny.”

“I believe that very deeply”, he insisted.

That comment will create some awkward tensions in Brussels and beyond, to say the least. Next month, the UK is set to hold a summit for all NATO leaders. We’ll see if US President Donald Trump and Macron will go head to head on the matter.

He also said he was unsure whether he saw NATO’s Article 5, which enshrines the principle of mutual defence, was functioning as intended.

Unsurprisingly, the interview created backlash.

German foreign minister Heiko Mass said that, while the EU did need to step up its game on defence, it should do so by working “with NATO, and not against it”.

European Council President Donald Tusk also commented on the interview, but focused on Macron’s assertion that somehow Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban could help persuade the Poles to change their position on Russia.

“Maybe, but not me, Emmanuel,” the Polish president retorted.

Perhaps Macron’s comments were another in a series of media misunderstandings he has had over the past years.

Macron has always had a problem with how he presents his punchlines. He once infamously said “if you’re looking for a job, just cross the street and you’ll get one”-  a comment that got him in hot water with the French.

People in Brussels who are normally enamoured by someone like Macron, who is considered a very pro-EU leader, are now less convinced about his love for the EU.

But there could be a method to the madness. Macron’s comments could be a refreshing change of pace from most politicians who only seem to pay lip-service to the EU and who are often quite cautious with their words, even when criticising it.

Were Macron’s comments out of line? Perhaps, but they could be an instigator to get EU leaders moving on gaining more military independence.

This article appeared on CorporateDispatch’s Weekly journal ‘Diplomatique.Expert’ published electronically on November 16th. 

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