Is Macron or NATO „braindead“?

Is Macron or NATO „braindead“?

When Macron got elected with his new movement „Le Marche“, he became at the beginning the new hope for Europe as it was the first time that not an anti-European populist movement won the election, but a pro-European populist movement. An election victory of Marie Le Pen´s Front National would have meant that she would retreat from NATO, the Euro and maybe the EU. It would have been the end of the German-French axis and with the Brexit the end of the EU. Worst case: She could have made an alliance with Russia and maybe China, an Eurasian axis that would have put Germany and Poland in a sandwich position. Worst case: A nuclear-armed and militarily strong France and Russia could start even a war against Germany and Poland if Trump and GB were not the deterrence against them anymore. Therefore many Europeans were relieved when Macron became president.

While Germany´s Chancellor Merkel hadn´t started any European initiative for a decade and other Europeans neither, Macron very early launched an European initiative. It included further EU integration, a common foreign policy, a common security policy and closer military cooperation, a financial initiative that wanted to establish an European finance minister, a common financial fund and an EU budget and a financial union. As he was a former banker at Rothschild and connected to the French financial capital and German finance minister Scholz has as his adviser the former chief of Goldmann Sachs Germany, he thought that this was easy to achieve.

Most Europeans stared at Merkel as they hoped that Germany would welcome this initiative. However, Macron got no reaction from Germany at the beginning, but even a lot of criticism. Especially his ideas of the financial union were rejected by the German government as it feared that Germany would be the paymaster for the Southern countries and that Macron´s financial plans were de facto a transfer union which would push German voters to the right-winged AfD as they didn´t want to give their money to the PIGS states. Germany feared that the Southalliance within the Euro group which is lead by France let Germany become a bankrupt state.

While Merkel hesitated, her potential successors Annegreth Kramp-Karrenbauer and Friedrich Merz like other opposition parties with the exception of the AfD criticized Merkel for not responding to Macron´s European initiative. However, at the anniversary of the Elysee treaty, Merkel and Macron signed the Aachen treaty and were promoting closer cooperation between France and Germany.

A central aspect of this treaty was the closer military cooperation and a mutual defense promise if one country got attacked by a third power. However it remained unclear if this included the nuclear deterrence by French Force de frappe for Germany that would be an alternative to the US nuclear umbrella for Germany like French defense minister Michèle Alliot-Marie had already offered before, but her offer was rejected at that time.

Macron also tried to Europeanize the French foreign policy. While earlier meetings between China and France were mostly bilateral, Macron invited Merkel and Juncker to his meeting with Xi Jinping in France. The signal was that France alone had no chance against China and ist New Silkroad, but that it would unite with Germany and the EU to balance growing Chinese power and influence.

Now Macron shocked Germany and parts oft he EU with his veto against the further enlargement tot he Balkans states when he was vetoing the opening of accession talks with North Macedonia, even though it had changed its name to comply with EU demands and presented the EU a six-page paper for a new model of EU enlargement:

„France unveils new model EU enlargement

By Andrew Rettman

Brussels, 16. Nov, 18:05

Western Balkan countries should still become EU members, but via a new, step-by-step method, France has said.

The „gradual association“ idea was the basis for a „reformed approach to the [EU] accession process“, set out in an informal, six-page paper circulated to EU diplomats by France on Friday (15 November) and seen by EUobserver.

EU enlargement currently works by opening accession negotiations with candidate countries, which cover 35 separate areas or „chapters“ of European law.

Once candidates agree to make the necessary reforms, they are admitted as full members and have access to European programmes, such as science grants, and to tens of billions of euros a year in EU subsidies.

But in the new French model, they would make the reforms in a seven-step process, gaining access to selected EU programmes and funds along the way, before arriving at „full“ membership.

The seven steps are: (i) rule of law and fundamental rights; (ii) education and research; (iii) employment and social affairs; (iv) financial affairs; (v) the single market, agriculture, and fish; (vi) foreign affairs; and (vii) „others“.

If candidates graduated step one, they could gain entry to Eurojust, the EU judicial cooperation club in The Hague, for instance, France said.

Step two could see them win access to the so-called Horizon 2020 science programme and let Balkan universities take part in the Erasmus student exchange scheme, the French paper added .

Step four could see them join the EU banking union, while step five would „make candidate countries eligible for structural funds“ – the multi-billion euro subsidies.

„Completion of negotiations corresponding to each step taken by the country would open the possibility to participate in corresponding EU programmes, to be associated to certain relevant sectoral policies, and, where appropriate, to benefit from certain targeted funding,“ the French paper said.

The „final objective remains full and entire accession“, it added.

EU affairs ministers will hold initial talks on the French ideas in Brussels on Tuesday.

They would have to agree to any changes by unanimity.

But if things went well, then the European Commission ought to flesh out the ideas in legal documents by January 2020, France noted.

And that might mean the EU reforms could still be put in place, or, at least, agreed in principle, in time for a summit with Western Balkan leaders in Zagreb in May.

Veto shocker

The new proposals came after French president Emmanuel Macron caused shock last month by vetoing the opening of accession talks with North Macedonia, even though it had changed its name to comply with EU demands.

It prompted concern that France intended to halt EU expansion in the Western Balkans.

It also prompted German and US warnings on potential instability or in a spike in Chinese and Russian influence in the region.

But the French paper „reaffirmed“ the EU’s „unequivocal support for the European perspective of Western Balkan countries“.

Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia „belonged to Europe by their history, their culture, and their geography,“ France said.

It did not mention Turkey, which is an official EU candidate, but whose talks were de facto suspended three years ago after a failed coup in Ankara led to mass-scale repression.

Any EU reforms could also affect Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, which aspire to join one day.

The French paper justified Macron’s veto by saying the past 20 years of EU intervention in the Western Balkans had yielded „too slow“ progress and „insufficient benefits“ for its people.

But the step-by-step method, and its acceleration of EU subsidies, would bring „concrete benefits“, it said.

And those, in turn, would „stem the migratory movements [out of the Western Balkans to Europe] which pose difficulties for both sides“ and „reduce unfavourable external influence [from China and Russia],“ it added.

New rigour

France also warned that Western Balkan backsliding on democracy or rule of law would come at a price, however.

It called for „rigorous conditions“ and „reversibility“ of EU benefits if things went awry.

„Criteria for passage from one step to another will be precisely defined, allowing for verification of their effective and lasting … implementation,“ France noted.

The criteria on the rule of law step could be taken from the „justice scoreboard“, while the financial affairs one could be based on the „European semester“, France said, referring to two existing EU checklists on member states‘ judicial and fiscal compliance.

The Council of Europe in Strasbourg, a European human rights watchdog, could also furnish criteria on constitutional probity and on anti-money laundering compliance, France noted.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, a wealthy nations‘ club in Paris, and the World Bank in Washington could supply additional benchmarks, it said.

But „specific governance“ on enlargement steps would be in the hands of the EU commission and member states, who would „regularly follow … progress made“ and „examine“ candidates‘ performance, France said.

European observers ask themselves if Macron´s new model is because France has not that much stakes in the Balkan, therefore not national interest in it as it before pushed the membership of Rumania or if Macron´s new model originates from the bad experiences of EU enlargement with the East European states and the membership of Greece in the Euro.

However, it was not the last shock as Macron in an interview with the Economist declared the „brain death of NATO. The timing of this statement was perfect: US Secretary of State Pompeo just visited the celebrations of the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and held a speech at the Körber Foundation promoting the importance of freedom and the transatlantic relations and the German goverment was pleased to have a member of the Trump goverment that countered the statements of Trump about NATO. It remains unclear if it was just a reaction to the former NATO policy, Trump´s questioning of NATO and his anti-EU policy, the US withdrawal from the Middle East or the rejection of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer´s proposal for an UN-mandated security zone in Syria with the participitation of NATO or EU, even German military:

French President Emmanuel Macron warned fellow European countries that NATO is dying, citing a lack of coordination and U.S. unpredictability under President Donald Trump, comments that were welcomed in Moscow.

In an interview with The Economist published Thursday, Macron expressed doubt about U.S.-led NATO’s security maxim that an attack on one ally is an attack on all, which has underpinned transatlantic ties since the alliance’s 1949 foundation.

„What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO,“ Macron told the British weekly. Asked whether he still believed in the Article Five collective defense guarantee of NATO’s treaty, Macron answered: „I don’t know,“ although he said the United States would remain an ally.

While France has traditionally had an ambivalent role in NATO, taking no part in its strategic military planning from 1966 to 2009 despite being a founding member, Macron’s comments — a month before NATO’s Dec. 4 summit in London — were unexpected.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said he was overreacting.

„The French president has found rather drastic words to express his views. This is not how I see the state of cooperation at NATO,“ she told a news conference in Berlin alongside NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

In the interview, Macron also reiterated his support for opening dialogue between European Union member states and Russia, saying it would be a “huge mistake” to do otherwise. Ties between Moscow and Europe have been fraught since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine.

The French president laid out three potential options for Russia’s development: Russia could re-establish itself as a superpower, develop itself within the Eurasian sphere or establish a balanced cooperation with Europe.

While he told The Economist he is working to refresh France’s relations with Russia, he admitted that it could take up to 10 years to restore dialogue with Moscow.

Reuters contributed reporting to this article.

In Russia, Macron’s comments were hailed by some as an accurate depiction of NATO’s state.

„Golden words … an exact definition of the current state of NATO,“ Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, wrote on her Facebook page.

The Kremlin, meanwhile, had a more neutral reaction to his comments.

„Whether NATO is alive or dead, and which of this alliance’s body parts are in a coma, are not for us to decide. We are not pathologists,“ Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Friday.

Macron´s comments  are welcomed by Moscow, however the commentator of the Moscow Times thinks that Macron has very similar views with Russia, but that he won´t realize his grand visions in the European Union.

„Macron is ‚Ours‘ — but Does Russia Need Him?

Russian observers are struck by how closely Macron’s views on European security and world order coincide with those of Putin.

By Vladimir Frolov

Nov. 14, 2019

In a sort of bizarre political relay race, French President Emmanuel Macron has taken the baton from Presidents Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump to become the main destabilizing force in Europe and the destroyer of the Western world order. 

Last week, Macron gave an interview with the British weekly The Economist that had experts all aflutter over his remark that “what we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO.” 

According to famed French political scientist Bruno Tetre, this marks an escalation in the rhetoric of the French leader, who told a close circle of associates two weeks ago that “NATO will cease to exist in five years.” What’s more, even as NATO prepares to celebrate the 70th anniversary of its founding at a summit in London on Dec. 3-4, Macron publicly voiced doubts as to the effectiveness of the security guarantees found in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, saying “I don’t know what Article 5 will mean tomorrow.”

And one week before that, Macron vetoed the decision of the European Council to start negotiations with Albania and Northern Macedonia on joining the European Union,  single-handedly putting a halt to the process of EU expansion that had continued unabated for the past 25 years. Macron’s interview with The Economist, along with his keynote address at a meeting of French ambassadors, provides the fullest picture of his strategic vision for the geopolitical roles of Europe, France and, oddly enough, Russia, in the modern world.

Agent of change

Macron focused on the need for Europe to achieve “geopolitical autonomy” in the face of deepening global competition with the U.S., China and “the growing strength of authoritarian powers in the European neighborhood” — meaning Russia and Turkey. 

The French leader wants the European Union to be more unified and effective in its functioning. He considers it a “political project” possessing “a single sovereignty,” and not a constantly expanding “unified market of local sovereignties.”

Macron has a keen sense of the shifts occurring in the global geopolitical landscape. He wants to lead the changes happening in Europe by “disrupting” the status-quo and acting as an “agent of change” to ensure France’s leadership amidst new conditions.

The French president sees the main shift as the United States’ strategic return to isolationist and mercantilist policies of “national populism” — a trend that began under Barack Obama, peaked under Donald Trump, and that Macron expects will continue no matter who is elected president in 2020. 

He speaks with a certain admiration for Trump and Putin as leaders who pursue only the national interests of the countries in “their region” without advancing a global agenda for all mankind – and would like to do the same on behalf of Europe. He cites the turmoil surrounding Brexit and the political stagnation in Germany to justify his intellectual claim to EU leadership. This return to “Gaullism” applies not only to France, but also to the entire European Union – but it remains unclear whether other EU countries are willing to pay for it.

Russian observers, meanwhile, are struck by how closely Macron’s views on European security and world order coincide with those that Putin has espoused ever since his speech at the Munich Security Conference in February 2007.

Macron as Putin

Macron shares many of Putin’s views concerning U.S. policy in Europe and the Middle East. He, like Putin, blames Europe’s migration problem on the misguided U.S. policy of “regime change” during the “Arab Spring.” 

Macron contends that the push for “regime change” during the “Arab Spring” “went against the will of the people, the source of sovereignty.” This matches the Kremlin’s main narrative — namely, that all revolutions have their roots in “outside sources.” 

Macron shows solidarity with Putin’s feeling of being offended by Western actions after the end of the Cold War. The French president argues that NATO was created to counter the threat posed by the Warsaw Pact – despite the fact that the former was established in 1949 and the latter only took shape in 1955. He stated that NATO continues to view the containment of Russia as its primary strategic objective and has expanded right up to Russia’s borders, leaving that country without a “security zone” and “violating the terms of the deal reached in 1990.” And, he said, “when NATO got as far as Ukraine, Putin decided to stop that expansion.” 

Macron also said that Putin considers the EU as a vassal of the U.S., and EU expansion as a Trojan Horse for the expansion of NATO. The French leader essentially parrots Putin’s words — perhaps the result of his confidential conversations with the Russian president in St. Petersburg in May 2018 and at Fort de Brégançon in August 2019 — and leaves no doubt that he believes this view is justified and worthy of consideration.

The French leader essentially recognizes Russia’s right to veto actions of the West in a “zone of privileged interests” in the post-Soviet space, thereby denying the post-Soviet states the right to their own political identities. 

This is like a dream come true for Russia’s foreign policy efforts of the past five years. If Putin was still working in foreign intelligence, he could have unhesitatingly written a report after Macron’s recent comments claiming success in “communicating ideas to the president of France that were advantageous to Russia — understandings that then became the foundation of that country’s foreign policy strategy.” 

Macron’s call for strengthening “Europe’s strategic autonomy” and overcoming its security dependence on the U.S. also plays into Russia’s long-term interests. Moscow has been trying to decouple Europe from the U.S. ever since the Cold War. Now, Trump’s mercantilist policies are making it a reality. Trump is essentially telling Europe, “You must pay us more to ensure your security, including by buying everything American-made.” Macron says that France did not sign up for this. He is looking to step in if Washington voluntarily abdicates its role as the “provider of European security.”

Macron emphasizes that without first achieving “military sovereignty,” Europe cannot achieve economic or technological sovereignty. He also sees NATO as playing no role whatsoever in the issues of greatest importance to France: the Middle East, the terrorist threat in Africa and migration flows in the Mediterranean. In effect, Macron proposes replacing the U.S. as Europe’s security guarantor against Russia with Russia as the guarantor of Europe’s security against threats from the South.

Moscow is not yet sold

Of course, Macron’s thoughts about Russia’s geopolitical choice and his analysis of Russian policy are somewhat naïve. It is an oversimplification to conclude, as Macron does, that Russia could not be an independent center of power over the long term due to its excessive military spending and the growing number of conflicts in which Moscow would have to become involved. In reality, Russia has a very diverse range of opportunities: It avoids excessive obligations and, since 2016, its military spending in real terms has fallen to the acceptable level of less than 3% of GDP.

From his observation that Putin is seated farther and farther from Xi Jinping at each year’s Belt and Road Summit, Macron has concluded for some reason that Putin finds the “Eurasian project” unacceptable because China already dominates in the region and Russia can hope for nothing more than to become a “vassal of Beijing.” That is a subtle observation, but it is hardly useful for understanding Russia’s strategic rapprochement with China. 

It is apparently difficult for Macron to imagine that Russia’s ruling elite see rapprochement with Europe as a greater threat to their ability to retain power than an unspoken and unequal alliance with China. Macron sees Moscow’s current anti-European, conservative discourse as a “necessary reaction” without understanding its usefulness for the ruling elite. Emphasizing Russia’s “European character” enables Macron to semantically avoid the taint of “colonial discourse” characteristic of other Western leaders, but it gives him no influence over Russian politics.

Russia would in theory benefit from playing along with Macron and working with him to squeeze the U.S. out of Europe, strengthening Europe as a center of power independent of the U.S., and strengthening Europe’s military and technological sovereignty from the United States and China. 

Three things stand in the way, however. First, the Kremlin is skeptical of Macron himself, whom it views as a political lightweight who cannot back up his eloquent words with actions. Secondly Russia believes it would gain less from a stronger EU that Macron seeks and more from the EU’s further weakening or even disintegration (eliminating a strategic threat). And third, there is a new consideration: China. Macron and others would present any rapprochement between Russia and Europe as Moscow’s “cunning ruse” to withdraw from its alliance with Beijing. That could put Russia in an uncomfortable position with its strategic neighbor.

Moscow will also exercise restraint in its dealings with Macron in the knowledge that his ideas will most likely find no support from other European allies, primarily Germany and the Eastern European countries — despite Macron’s claims that he “works with Viktor Orban.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel has already stated that she does not agree with Macron’s “broad generalizations” about the brain death of NATO.

Of course, Macron is “ours,” but is that enough for Russia’s policies to triumph in Europe?

A Russian version of this article was earlier published in Republic.

Macron sees three options for Russia: Become a superpower again, create an Eurasia with China or establish EU-Russian cooperation as an alternative model. Therefore he proposes a New East Policy with Russia, a security zone for Russia and an European security architecture. The rapprochement with Russia should also lead to a new NATO policy that sees the dangers not in Russia and the East, but in the South, the Greater Middle East and Africa, migration and Islamism. Chirac, Sarkozy and Macron already tried to get acceptance for their idea of a Mediterranean union in the EU, now in NATO.

NATO General Secretary Stoltenberg already declared that no European military could replace the USA and NATO and that this was dangerous talk. In the coming NATO meeting Macron wants a fundamental debate about the meaning of NATO and its orientation against Russia which he would like to replace by a new policy and detente with Russia. However, some NATO members see the danger that Macron´s statements and policy could be an invitation for Putin to test out the defense promise of NATO article 5 and weaken Europe and NATO. However, whether Macron will leave NATO like De Gaulle did, is questionable.

Macron now thinks about the Russian moratorium. This won´t be accepted by the rest of NATO member states. Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas is incorrect if he says that Macron would split NATO over this question as the NATO member states seem to be pretty united about this issue. However, I hope that Macron will change the attitude of NATO gradually and a compromise will be reached which could also have the result of a new initiative of NATO membership countries towards a new policy towards Russia-The second important point Macron makes is that he wants more resources for the South, Africa and the Greater Middle East. Germany is now thinking about sending special forces to Africa which are combatants like the French as the German military to date is sending military advisers. However, this will be the hottest NATO meeting since a long time. However it won´t be the end of NATO and Macron won´t leave the organisaztion.

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