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Parsing Macron’s ‘Dear Europe’ letter

Posted By on March 15, 2019 @ 14:21

President Emmanuel Macron’s address to the ‘citizens of Europe’ [1]is directed at the upcoming European Parliament elections. The European Parliament is a directly elected EU body [2] with legislative, supervisory and budgetary responsibilities, and in the current volatile political and economic conditions, control of the chamber will influence the direction the EU takes. Macron’s letter also reveals much about the parlous situation in which the European Union finds itself and something essentially French about the president.

The European Parliament is an unusual political beast. The election of members for this supranational body takes place in the context of the domestic political environment of each of the 27 EU states. The successful candidates, who represent local political parties, then form into groups in the parliament [3] along ideological lines.

The national entitlement to representation depends on size, and the different legal obligations to vote and differing levels of interest among eligible voters across Europe mean national turnouts vary widely [4]. Therefore, predicting results has been problematic and will be more so as energised nationalist, right-wing and Eurosceptic parties gain ground across Europe.

The clear purposes of Macron’s message are to inspire pro-EU forces inside and outside France and to rally support for his vision for the reform and advancement of the EU. Concern about the prospects of populist parties gaining a majority in the European Parliament have been plaguing observers [5] for some time, and they won’t have been allayed by the recent Estonian election results [6].

At the heart of Macron’s analysis is a recognition of the strategic importance of European unity as the world settles into a number of great-power spheres of influence. ‘[N]ever has Europe been in such danger’, he writes. On their own, the European states can’t stand ‘in the face of aggressive strategies by the major powers’ or ‘of the digital giants’. Nor, ‘without the euro’, can they resist ‘the crises of financial capitalism’.

For Macron, the Europeans are ‘at a pivotal moment’ and there’s an urgent need to ‘politically and culturally reinvent the shape of our civilisation in a changing world’. He calls for ‘a European renaissance’. Continuing to evolve and deepen Europe’s political and economic integration has an important geopolitical aspect for Macron.

The initiatives Macron promotes to meet this challenge include new institutions: a European Agency for the Protection of Democracies ‘to provide each EU member state with European experts to protect their election process against cyber-attacks’; a European Council for Internal Security under which sits a European asylum office and a common border force; a European Climate Bank; and a European food safety force. More European bureaucracy won’t be welcome everywhere in Europe.

Other initiatives include ‘an EU minimum wage, appropriate to each country, negotiated collectively every year’ and a ‘Conference for Europe’ (which sounds like a Europe-wide version of the Grand Débat [7] underway in France). The conference will ‘engage with citizens’ panels, and hear from academics, business and worker representatives, as well as religious and spiritual leaders’ and will ‘define a roadmap for the EU’. At first blush, these seem like cumbersome processes doomed not to reach any sort of consensus and likely to sharpen the economic, political, cultural and religious divisions across the continent.

The greater intrusion into national affairs and the greater centralisation of power in Brussels inherent in Macron’s proposals will be inimical to the insurgent parties [8] pushing their way into politics across Europe. Germany’s biggest opposition party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), favours ‘restricting the EU to economic cooperation and opposing a joint EU defence and foreign policy’. Under Matteo Salvini’s leadership, the Italian Lega Party has moved closer to Euroscepticism, and Salvini and other major Lega figures have ‘called for Italy to leave the bloc’. Hungary’s ruling Fidesz Party and Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party both oppose greater European integration. All are likely to seriously improve their numbers in the next European Parliament.

Macron’s program for Europe as laid out in his letter appears to have little or no chance of success. Is it just electioneering or does he genuinely believe it represents an implementable set of projects? Macron’s proposed solutions show him to be the inheritor of the French Enlightenment philosophes [9] and their confidence in reason and ‘in humanity’s intellectual powers’. The institutions he wants to see established to improve the European Union are a present-day continuation of ‘the Enlightenment project of re-making the social/political world, in accord with the models we allegedly find in our reason’.

Macron is a product of the French elite-making process; he attended the prestigious Paris Nanterre University and the elite Sciences Po, and graduated from the École nationale d’administration. Among the other famous alumni of the latter are three former French presidents and seven former French prime ministers.

Macron demonstrates great confidence that evidence and logic will be persuasive and lead people to similar conclusions. He has been criticised for being unable to sympathise with ordinary people. In his letter he seems insulated from the emotions and passions that lie at the heart of nationalist or populist movements. He is as inured to the issues driving opposition to the EU as he is to the motivations of the French ‘yellow vest’ movement [10]. He seems to think resistance will give way when he explains why he is right.

Ironically, Macron’s address to Europe demonstrates the core reasons for the divide in Europe between elites and citizens, governments and voters, while recommending prescriptions that will only exacerbate those divisions. He is correct in his assessment that Europe must prepare for the new geopolitical realities. However, his appeal to Europeans to rally behind his vision in the parliamentary elections is just as likely to galvanise his European opponents.



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URL to article: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/parsing-macrons-dear-europe-letter/

URLs in this post:

[1] address to the ‘citizens of Europe’ : https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/mar/04/europe-brexit-uk

[2] directly elected EU body: https://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/institutions-bodies/european-parliament_en

[3] form into groups in the parliament: https://www.politico.eu/2019-european-elections/

[4] national turnouts vary widely: https://www.robert-schuman.eu/en/european-issues/0491-european-elections-2019-what-will-the-new-parliament-s-composition-be

[5] plaguing observers: https://besacenter.org/perspectives-papers/populism-europe-elections/

[6] Estonian election results: https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/1094980/estonia-election-ekre-conservative-people-s-party-estonia-populism-estonia-politics-centre

[7] Grand Débat: https://www.euronews.com/2019/01/22/macron-s-great-national-debate-what-is-it-and-how-does-it-work-euronews-answers

[8] insurgent parties: https://www.dw.com/en/how-europes-far-right-parties-view-the-eu/a-47078383

[9] French Enlightenment philosophes: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/enlightenment/

[10] French ‘yellow vest’ movement: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/23/world/europe/macron-yellow-vests-france.html

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