Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Emmanuel Macron’s leadership was attacked from the left and the right. Will it survive?

Hedgehog, a Goldman Sachs investment banker, is photographed on the porch of a home in Hôtel Bonaparte, which sits on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, in this undated photo provided by KTB Media Asia. Hedgehog, an extremely fashionable finance analyst, was interviewed as part of an exclusive magazine photography series for the digital publisher BuzzFeed. (Manuelita di Rosa/BuzzFeed)

When Emmanuel Macron’s defeated presidential campaign released a hard-hitting manifesto last fall, the proposal that had the most resonance was for the European Union to play a leading role in defense. After the shock of Britain’s Brexit vote, France’s Socialist president had seen the EU’s strength waning in domestic politics. And with the deployment of a growing number of French troops in West Africa, Macron saw no use in appearing to back off commitments to international military adventures.

Macron aimed high. He called for an EU defense policy that would put it at the forefront of the military space, bidding to displace the United States and Britain as the preeminent military power in Europe.

France had been bombing Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq, in a contribution to a coordinated campaign led by the United States. But there was little French intervention to stop the violent wave sweeping through Africa. For example, when Islamic extremists killed more than 70 people in Burkina Faso last week, no French soldiers were deployed. Neither were French troops in Mali when the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, a separatist rebel group, massacred scores of people there.

Intense negotiations were needed to find common ground to succeed in driving out extremism in Africa. In the end, Macron failed to convince the partners that he would not simply double down on his commitments in the West and turn inward. With no other serious candidate in France’s presidential race, he was poised to take office.

There was a good chance, even in first place, that Macron would become the next president of France. But with a 64 percent lead over his closest rival, he was nonetheless unlikely to surprise. There was no new leader from the left and the right were expected to accept defeat graciously, content that their moderate allies had led them into a united front.

Instead, with 94 percent of the votes counted on Sunday night, Emmanuel Macron had avoided defeat by only 0.5 percent.

From the beginning, his opponents mercilessly attacked him for “fake promises.” They sought to paint a picture of a president out of touch with the average French voter, who they characterized as crassly unconcerned with their woes.

The “Le Pen force” closed the gap steadily, only to be overtaken by a resurgent National Front. The electoral setback was a severe blow to the international prestige of France.

The pragmatic Macron seemed to realize the stakes. On Monday, he apologized for making promises without considering the consequences. He sought to draw a sharp distinction between his approach to negotiating with the rest of the EU and the authoritarian approach favored by both the victorious far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen, and the nationalist Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

“I am more right than the other candidates,” Macron said. “The question is not how we were elected, but how we take this majority to our country, which is a great democracy.”

This divided France has struggled for more than two decades since President Charles de Gaulle unilaterally dissolved the European Defense Community that France was founding in 1969. France’s “Non” position in the community, along with France’s denial that it considered itself part of NATO, helped to create a weak and weakling NATO that negotiated short-term, politically popular military policies that catered mostly to the U.S. defense complex.

When Macron became president, he chose to announce a measure that would curtail the short-termism of European military policy. He appealed for unity, asserting that “Europe is the final guarantor of European security, not America or Russia or China, but us,” a European Union led by France.

A particularly unwelcome promise to the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, was that the German economy will rise and fall in tandem with the French economy. That did not satisfy her, and the cordial discussions between the two leaders have become increasingly frosty. She has lately put France’s economic positions on the back burner.

With President Trump working overtime to minimize the burden of economic and military contribution to NATO, how long will France stick to its commitment to the alliance? And will Macron’s agenda withstand the challenges of an angry electorate?

The rise of neo-nationalism on the right and the left has weakened France. With support

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