After six years, quick, too quick assessment of Emmanuel Macron’s Diplomacy

It will be time one day to make a calm assessment of the diplomatic record of Emmanuel Macron’s two presidencies. Today it is only possible to identify certain features which, perhaps later, will require scholarly research and discussion, but which already give certain disturbing indications.

As is often the case, the initial ambitions came up against the facts, the balance of power and international hazards, which is the hallmark of any diplomacy that is even remotely constructed, and basically of any political project. In the case of Emmanuel Macron, this gap between ambitions and results is also largely due to a certain lack of preparation and a style that has proved dysfunctional. Let us leave aside for a later article the record of these two presidencies in European matters, where the president must be credited with real successes, probably because the European framework, fundamentally sober and transactional, prevents certain weaknesses from being expressed too freely.

The limits of personal charm and the limits of reason

With regard to Russia, the plan to build a new personal relationship with Vladimir Putin, even to the point of attacking professional diplomats deemed too hostile to Russia, described as the Deep State[The plan to build a new personal relationship with Vladimir Putin, to the point of attacking professional diplomats deemed too hostile to Russia, referred to as the “Deep State”1, failed in a spectacular and humiliating manner. These good relations have not made Russia any less determined in its plan of aggression against Ukraine, which is not the effect of a whim or a whim of the Russian president, but the culmination of a strategy that is pragmatic in its details but determined in its project. It is hard to understand why Emmanuel Macron was so determined to seek a diplomatic solution shortly before 24 February 2022 when bilateral talks had become ridiculous, and even after that date. What power could he have imagined? Could Vladimir Putin be coaxed and made more aware of the benefits of economic interdependence and regional peace? Could he be made a good European, ready to cooperate rationally with all the other countries of Europe? The facts belied this. Was this naivety excusable? And last week, it was not serious to describe the Central European states, tetanised by the Russian threat, as “war-mongering” countries, and to inadvertently give the impression that France was seeking a median position in disregard of the European unity that it wanted to promote. A fine illustration of the evils of improvisation.

It is also hard to understand how Emmanuel Macron, who had been able to point out the manipulation of French opinion of which he himself had been a victim at the time of his first election, then, without reacting, allowed Russia Today and Sputnik to amplify the crisis of the Gilets Jaunes and to carry out their destabilisation campaigns2. The hatred of liberal democracy, seen as a mortal danger for autocracy and orthodoxy (a classic of Slavophile thought), is part of the DNA of Russian power.

Emmanuel Macron made the same mistake in his relationship with Donald Trump, but fortunately in a different context and with consequences that are not as serious.

In both cases, it seems that the historical depth of the situations were analysed too quickly, without measuring what they could involve in terms of conflicts and violence. This is an opportunity to apply to the current president what Raymond Aron said about Valery Giscard d’Estaing in Le spectateur engagé (1981): “a very intelligent, highly educated man is at the same time an irenic man (…). When you listen to his speeches, you always have the feeling that everything can be arranged by negotiation, compromise, by being reasonable. Almost never does he give the feeling that there are, in the world we live in, conflicts that are probably inexhaustible, that there is the risk, the danger of tragedies. Today, a certain candour is added…

Outreach in Lebanon and Africa

In Lebanon, what was the purpose in September 2020, shortly after the August explosion, of urging the Lebanese political class to carry out real reforms, when there was no lever to unblock such a complex situation? It raised hopes in large segments of Lebanese society, demoralized by the state of its country.

The same can be said of the new African policy desired during the (interminable) Ouagadougou speech in November 2017, and then during the “Africa-France “Summits3 with their appeals to the youth, and which now gives way to injunctions to diplomats to counter Russian propaganda. It is very late! Perhaps because the fight against jihadism has taken precedence, we have not seen the Russian offensive looming. On another level, little has been done to understand and “re-orient” the big French companies and banks which, for short-sighted reasons, have disengaged from Africa despite their proclamations of all kinds. A little reflection and technique would have been more useful than ambitious resets and grand designs4.

In Algeria, the idea of appeasing the anger of the Algerian political class and part of the population with a presidential visit and commissions of historians is a nice one. But it seems quite superficial when one considers that this anger stems from a historical neurosis in which France has little to do with it. A government that derives its sole legitimacy from the war of independence has no interest in forgetting past grievances and demands for reparation, which would leave it powerless in the face of a country that demands reforms. Colonisation has a well-established and deplorable moral record today, but it is not for the President of the Republic to seek reconciliation in an Algerian political context that forbids it. Emmanuel Macron has condemned himself to appease no one. On the contrary, he has fueled general resentment, and even aroused the anger of the demonstrators of the defunct Hirak, who are convinced that France is supporting the current government. This amounts to losing on both counts. The French language, which one would have imagined as a link between the two countries, is now officially put on the same level as English…. A great success. It would have been better to limit ourselves to a sober, transactional economic diplomacy, without cultural objectives, and not to surround the Partnership Agreement concluded with the Algerian president with empty words.

In fact, one wonders what authorizes a president to want to influence the thinking of historians, both French and Algerian. To the Algerian leaders, who are incapable of breaking out of their mythology out of conviction and self-interest, we must simply remind them that the historical truth belongs to no one, and certainly not to the political classes. It is enough to let historians work freely, and open the archives that are still closed, which Emmanuel Macron has undertaken more sincerely than his predecessors. On French colonization and its cruelty, there is no need for general policy statements. Serious work is enough, and in recent years there has been no shortage of it.

The French Larousse dictionnary defines outrecuidance as ‘excessive confidence in oneself’ and as ‘casualness towards others’. Emmanuel Macron’s diplomacy often meets the first part of this definition. It would be a shame if it also met the second part.

Nicolas Tisler

Postscript (7 September 2022): it appears that it was at the request of V. Zelinsky that E. Macron sought to reach V. Putin just after the invasion of 24 February 2022… See here.


1Shocking and unfair expression, which he should have avoided if only for its Trumpian connotation.
2Russia Today, whose broadcasting agreement had been kindly renewed by the Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel, which was very benevolent and probably aware of what “needed” to be decided, in December 2020…
3No one at the Quai d’Orsay alerted E. Macron to the stupidity of this title and the negative effect it could have on the young Africans he wanted to talk to!
4One positive point to be welcomed, however, is the policy of restitution of works of art stolen in Africa, announced in Ouagadougou and seriously undertaken since.
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