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Diplomacy from Atlanticism to Gaullism, Macron Embodies all the Lines

Translated Wednesday 6 September 2017, by Jane Swingler

Within two months of his election, the new French Head of State has already attended the NATO, G7, EU summits and has had meetings with Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel and Narendra Modi. Since the beginning of his five-year term of office, this president has decided to engage fully in foreign and European policy. But what political line is he going to represent?

On 7 and 8 July, President Macron was in Germany for his first G20 summit. Since the beginning of his mandate, the Head of State has sought to embody a new foreign and European policy: his own. It constitutes a break with his predecessors, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande. Is it to renew links with a stance held by de Gaulle and Mittérand?

According to Christian Lequesne, a researcher at CERI, the Centre of International Research, there is no doubt about it: “Emmanuel Macron is adopting their standards. There is a form of break with the two previous five-year terms, whose diplomacy was based largely on the question of respect for fundamental principles and democratic values. In this French president, there seems to be a leaning towards a diplomacy of interests. You could characterise it as a sort of pragmatism,” according to which “France must be able to talk to everyone.”


The French president has clearly confirmed this. In his interview with eight European newspapers (“Le Figaro”, “Süddeutsche Zeitung”, “Le Soir”, “The Guardian ”,“ Corriere della Sera”, “El Pais ”,“ Gazeta Wyborcza” and “Le Temps”) on 21 June, Macron was clear about it. “With me, there will be an end to the type of neo-conservatism which has been brought into France over the past ten years. Democracy is not made from the outside, without the knowledge of the people. France, quite rightly, did not take part in the Iraq war. It was also wrong to go to war with Libya in this way.” In the view of the geopolitical expert, Pascal Boniface, this is a means of referring back “to two emblematic presidents of the Fifth Republic, a double patronage from both right and left. In essence, Gaullo-Mittérandism is a break with the foreign policy of the Fourth Republic, which was marked by colonial wars and Atlanticism.

The question of autonomy is at its heart: France is a Western country, but this is not all. It speaks freely as an ally without necessarily being aligned. Gaullo-Mittérandism is opposed to what is known as the Atlanticist current during the Cold War, whether it be neo-conservative or Western from this point on.


Receiving Vladimir Putin with pomp and ceremony at Versailles on 29 May appeared to demonstrate the desire to reprise a more peaceful dialogue with Russia. Under the Hollande presidency, relations were particularly strained over a number of issues: Iran, Syria and Ukraine. It had even led to a postponement of Vladimir Putin’s visit to Paris on 19 October 2016. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, who visited Moscow at the end of June, sees points of diplomatic agreement with Russia and talks of a “window of opportunity” on Syria. Putin may wish to avoid a stalemate and the French standpoint has broadly changed, as it no longer sets the removal of Bashar al-Assad as a prerequisite to any negotiation within the peace process.


However, Emmanual Macron’s break with neo-conservatism and interventionism appears overplayed. The president is also adopting the robust policy of Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande, who took part in numerous conflicts (Libya, Ivory Coast, Mali, Iraq … ). The new Head of State would be prepared for military reprisals against the Syrian regime in the event of chemical weapon attacks.

France would not hesitate to act unilaterally to have “its red line respected”, he stated, following the example of Donald Trump, who ordered a military strike against the Syrian army on 4 April. So Macron is not breaking away from Atlanticism at all. And the president went as far as inviting Donald Trump to the 14 July celebrations in Paris. It is a highly symbolic gesture, which the Elysée Palace accounts for as a desire to not break off the dialogue after US “opposition” to the Climate Change Conference. The fact remains that Macron’s break with neo-conservatism and interventionism seems overplayed.

The official aim is to celebrate “the centenary of the US entry into World War I to fight alongside French troops”. Unofficially, the Elysée Palace is attempting to bring the US back on side in the battle against climate change and work together on the Middle East conflict, notably on the Syrian dossier and the fight against terrorism.

It seems then, that Emmanuel Macron wishes to take inspiration from the whole range of diplomatic lines. It is a strategy which could work for a while but which “could get complicated if the aura around him became weakened. For the moment, his success in the presidential elections still serves him well but if his reforms in France hit problems, he could lose credibility compared to others in power”, warns Christian Lequesne.

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