Source Responsible Statecraft

WASHINGTON, U.S.--In a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg in January, French President Emmanuel Macron declared he believed the time had come for Europe to build “a new order of security and stability.”

“The security of our continent,” he continued, “requires a strategic rearmament of our Europe as a power of peace and balance, in particular in the dialogue with Russia.”

On Sunday, Macron was the first French president to win reelection since Jacques Chirac 20 years ago, with a 17-point victory over the far-right populist Marine Le Pen.

Yet Macron’s reelection by no means ensures that his pursuit of strategic autonomy for Europe will meet with success in the coming years. Indeed, Macron now inherits a politically fractured France at home and a Europe rent by the war in Ukraine abroad. 

As George Washington University professor and director of its Illiberal Studies Program, Marlene Laruelle, tells me, it may be an election day defeat for Le Pen but for the illiberal franchise in France, “it’s a political victory.” 
Laruelle also noted the record high rate of abstentions: 28 percent generally, with  a record 42 percent rate among young voters, as a worrying sign.

Abroad, the biggest challenge Macron faces is the Russo-Ukrainian war which — no matter what happens — will inevitably affect the French president’s plans for a more independent, self-sufficient European defense.

What we can expect, according to professor of International Politics at the American University of Paris, Hall Gardner, is for Macron to “continue to pursue a negotiated settlement.”

In his view, Gardner, author of the forthcoming book, Toward an Alternative Transatlantic Global Strategy, tells Responsible Statecraft :

“There must be someone to engage in discussions between belligerents even in times of war and despite horrific war crimes. Macron argues that Russia will ‘refuse’ a peace settlement until it achieves some form of ‘victory’ possibly — but not necessarily — by the May 9 Russian celebration of the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany. Nevertheless, Macron has continued to argue that there will be no peace in Europe unless a new system of European security that incorporates Russia can be constructed once the Russia-Ukraine conflict is settled.”

But on that front, Macron faces a deeply divided Europe. Laruelle notes:

“The way the U.S., UK and Canada are taking the lead in helping Ukraine is somewhat squeezing Macron’s strategy of saying ‘we should have a European vision of autonomy.’ I think it can go in both directions: There is an awareness in Europe that, okay, we need to be able to work on this question together. At the same time, because of the war, NATO got reinforced.”

And right now, it seems as though the biggest question with regard to whether Macron will find success in his quest for strategic autonomy is Germany.

Gardner believes that Macron’s plans “will be made easier by the German decision to substantially augment defense spending by 100 billion Euros, plus European efforts to better coordinate defense spending.”

On the other hand, as Laruelle observes, “Germany is really shifting its prior stance toward Russia and is now joining the Central European narrative on Russia. It’s now a more NATO-oriented narrative than it is one in favor of European autonomy.” On Tuesday, the German Defense Ministry announced it will deliver Gepard anti-aircraft tanks to Ukraine for the first time.

The concern for Macron, says Laruelle, is if Germany “totally embraces the Polish, Baltic, Ukrainian point of view,” which would end up isolating Macron’s project of taking some distance from NATO by pushing for a more autonomous European policy.

Whether Germany’s new-found commitment to defense spending proves to be an ephemeral reaction to the trauma of the Russian invasion remains to be seen.

But what is certain is that the only way out of the conflict is through a peaceful settlement backed by the European powers. To that end, “it is crucial that the U.S. soon begin to take steps to work with, and not against, France and Germany, to seek peace with Moscow in order to wind down this war as soon as possible,” Gardner points out, adding, “if not also accompanied by a diplomatic offensive that will agree to some concessions and compromises with Russia over Crimea and Donbas, the Biden administration’s efforts to ‘weaken’ Russia are playing with fire.”