Spirited, disruptive, helpless? Five years for Macron on the international stage

French President Emmanuel Macron announced, Thursday, his re-election bid, finally entering a campaign turned upside down by a war he tried – and failed – to avoid. France 24 takes a look at five years of Macron’s rule on the international scene.

Until the end of his tenure in office, he was the youngest French leader since Napoleon clinging to the role he formed for himself after his big victory in 2017: that of supreme mediator, positioning French diplomacy – and himself – firmly. spot light.

While Macron’s last mission – staving off the largest military invasion of Europe since World War II – ended in failure, it wasn’t for not trying.

The French leader sought by all means to prevent the Russian invasion of Ukraine, even as American officials warned that war was imminent. Macron rushed to Moscow in early February, pleading for peace during lengthy talks with his Russian counterpart at the now-famous huge table. He returned with Putin’s consent to sit down for talks with his American counterpart, perhaps believing he guaranteed peace for our time.

A lukewarm meeting in the Kremlin on February 7, 2022. © AFP et SPUTNIK Those hopes were dashed less than two weeks later, first with Russia’s recognition of the breakaway republics of Donbas, then its invasion of Ukraine.

The crushing setback came on the heels of another French disaster on the international scene: the announcement, on February 17, of an accelerated French withdrawal from Mali, as French forces were embroiled in a seemingly intractable nine-year battle with jihadist militants roaming Mali. Coast region.

While the two double setbacks cannot by themselves sum up Macron’s diplomatic efforts, they symbolize France’s impotence on the international stage — despite the best efforts of an energetic president who has sought close ties with powers, friends and foes alike.

No foreign leader has attempted more influence than Russian President Putin, who treated him to a grand reception at Versailles in May 2017, just two weeks after taking office. Putin hosted again two years later, this time at the Fort de Brégançon, the summer resort of French presidents.

Macron said at the time: “A Russia that is turning its back on Europe is not in our interest.” But his guest has proven less responsive, rarely missing an opportunity to dig for his host. When questioned about the harsh detention of protesters in the Russian capital, Putin said sarcastically: “We don’t want a situation like the yellow vests (French yellow vest protesters) in Moscow.”

Macron adopted the same strategy with another demanding guest, former US President Donald Trump. A few weeks after Putin’s treatment at Versailles, the French president stopped by to wow the first American couple, hosted them for dinner at the Eiffel Tower and made Trump the guest of honor at the annual Bastille Day military parade.

At first, Macron’s charm offensive seemed to succeed, with Trump showering his French host with praise and the media talking about a new “friendship”. There were exaggerated handshakes and double-cheeked kisses when they met again at the White House the following year. But despite all this frenzy, Macron has proven powerless to prevent Trump from pulling out of the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal.

With America withdrawing into Trumpian isolationism and Britain’s consumption in the Brexit saga, Macron felt an opportunity to take a leadership role and offset France’s relative decline on the international stage. The first half of his term was marked by a series of bold and emotional speeches, as he sought to present himself as the champion of pluralism and the progressive camp, famous for defying the world, in a play on Trump’s most famous slogan, “Make Our Planet Great Again.”

NATO ‘Mentally Dead’ On top of the intractable crisis in eastern Ukraine and the standoff over Iran’s nuclear programme, the French mediator general faced a series of diplomatic challenges as he tried – and more often failed – to break the stalemate in Lebanon and Libya. In the meantime, he hasn’t shy away from controversy – he recently became the first Western leader to visit Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman since the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

He told critics of his visit to Jeddah last December: “Who would think for a second that we could help Lebanon and maintain peace and stability in the Middle East without talking to Saudi Arabia?”

It was a trademark move by a president eager to translate his “disruptive” brand of politics into feats on the world stage. Macron’s assertion often led him into diplomatic spats — notably with populist and authoritarian leaders who were prone to lecturing. Frequent sparring partners include Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, Italy’s Matteo Salvini, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, arguably his favorite president, who questioned the French president’s “mental health” during a bitter spat over French secular rules in 2020.

Macron was equally able to irk his allies, not least when he called the NATO military alliance “mentally dead” during an interview with The Economist in 2019, prompting a flurry of protests from Washington and European capitals.

French presidential election © France 24 Surprisingly, relations with America briefly fell to a historic low under Trump’s successor Joe Biden, amid a furious dispute over submarine contracts. Paris had hoped for a fresh start for the Democrat’s election in 2020, but those hopes were dashed the following year when the United States and Britain secretly negotiated a deal with Australia that would cost France a multibillion-dollar submarine contract. The scorn came in the wake of the rapid US withdrawal from Afghanistan that left America’s European allies – not to mention the Afghans themselves – feeling left high and dry.

France responded to the submarine’s contempt by recalling its ambassador from the United States – an unprecedented gesture from “America’s oldest ally”. It will take a 30-minute phone call between Macron and Biden, followed by a meeting in Rome, for the situation to be fixed, although French analysts have said that “America’s stab in the back” will leave deep scars.

Macron achieved greater success in Africa, where he continued the war against the jihadism launched by his predecessor, Francis Holland. Despite recent setbacks in Mali, where an anti-French military junta hastened the departure of French troops, Macron has succeeded in persuading other European countries to help shoulder the burden and contribute troops to an international force.

The French president has been perhaps the most successful in his other African initiatives, including his efforts to reach out to countries outside France’s traditional sphere of influence. In July 2018, he won acclaim for his engagement with civil society leaders during a trip to Nigeria, where he visited a popular Lagos nightclub founded by Afrobeat Villa Koti legend.

European aspirations have been thwarted—and Macron has made significant progress in recognizing the dark chapters of France’s turbulent history in Africa. In May 2021, after more than two decades of bitter relations between France and Rwanda, he delivered a historic speech in Kigali acknowledging French “responsibility” for the 1994 Tutsi genocide. His speech came after the release of a comprehensive report on the failures of the French peacekeeping mission at the time, And that was commissioned by Macron.

Addressing another highly sensitive topic, Macron announced the creation of a “Memories and Truth” commission to review France’s colonial history in Algeria and find ways to address long-standing grievances. He ordered the declassification of parts of the French National Archives on the Algerian War of Independence and sought “amnesty” from Algerians who had fought for France and were abandoned after the war, promising reparations.

Last year, the French president paid tribute to Algerian protesters who were killed in a bloody police crackdown during Algeria’s war of independence. © Rafael Yaghobzadeh, AP As Macron enters the final phase of his term, France’s rotating presidency of the European Union has provided an opportunity to refocus on its main foreign policy objective: promoting European integration and developing the EU’s “strategic autonomy.”

In one of his first steps as president, Macron renamed the French Foreign Ministry the “Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs.” As a lover of Europe, he has made no secret of his hopes that the EU will one day have a single budget, common fiscal rules and, above all, a common defence. While he initially failed to persuade German Angela Merkel to support his agenda, the Covid-19 virus eventually came to his aid, persuading France’s European Union partners to sign up for a massive recovery plan and issue mutual debt.

On the eve of France’s presidency of the European Union, Macron appeared to shift his focus to security, calling for greater convergence on foreign and defense policy. “We need to shift from a Europe that cooperates within its borders to a Europe that is strong in the world, fully sovereign, free to make its own choices and in control of its own destiny,” he said at a press conference in December.

Three months later, with a devastating war raging on the EU’s doorstep, Germany’s historic decision to increase its military spending signals a potential game-changer. It remains to be seen whether the tragedy in Ukraine will favor Macron’s push for a common European defense capability, or will support the US-led NATO alliance instead.

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