FIGAROVOX/INTERVIEW – For Thomas Gomart, director of the French Institute of International Relations, Emmanuel Macron leads a multilateral, European, and strategic policy. On the other hand, he has not avoided diplomatic setbacks against Putin, the Aukus alliance, and Mali.
Thomas Gomart is the director of the French Institute of International Relations. His latest job is Invisible Wars, ed. Tallandier, 2021.
FIGAROVOX. – Did Emmanuel Macron follow in the footsteps of his predecessors, or did he take French diplomacy in a new direction?
Thomas GOMART. – Emmanuel Macron tries to show off an agile classic. It’s part of the same continuity as its predecessors, while trying to bring in elements of disruption. He takes more or less profitable risks. Continuity compared to his predecessors in the Fifth Republic was observed from his first steps as president. First of all, the western aspect through the very specific relationship between Washington, London and Paris, through the invitation made to Donald Trump to attend the parade on July 14, 2017. He knows that the embryo of the alliance in Atlantic shows up at the end. in the First World War. Then, the Franco-German relations of the Franco-German Council of Ministers, which decided on a certain number of structuring armament programs. Finally, the importance given to relations with Moscow, especially with Vladimir Putin’s invitation to Versailles. In this sense, he creates imposed figures, while seeking to impose his style.
Then, the distracting aspect, the “agility” to use a term he likes, is to invest a lot in meetings that are supposed to foster multilateralism. This trend was highlighted after Donald Trump’s decisions to abandon the Paris agreement, and the Iranian nuclear agreement. This has resulted in the proliferation of multilateral and multi-factor events corresponding to Emmanuel Macron’s concern to be seen as active. He also multiplied speeches in various formats with a clear desire to modernize the image of France.
Does this strategy make it possible to claim France as an influential and credible actor on the international scene, or conversely we should read, for example, the inability to impose itself against the United States in the crisis of the submarine, or as a mediator against Putin in the Ukrainian conflict, as a reduction in French influence?
If one tries to examine what his diplomacy has accomplished, there are many disappointments. Most important is undoubtedly the result of his ongoing dialogue with Vladimir Putin, which has not prevented Russian aggression in Ukraine. The second disappointment was the discovery of the Aukus alliance made by the “three maritime democracies” as these countries defined themselves, while Australia was considered one of the main points of support for all French Indo-Pacific discourse. . There were also disappointments associated with his attempt to change the political situation in Lebanon, and a big question about France’s policy in the Sahel in the decision to stop Operation Barkhane. These are the elements that reflect the difficulties, the failures encountered in French diplomacy.
To produce medium and long-term effects, a foreign policy depends on the economic strength of the country.
If we look at the achievements, Emmanuel Macron is the only one in 2017 to be selected for a pro-European speech. Unlike all of his competitors, he never changed this entry. From this point of view, it has undergone a certain number of changes within the European Union. Debt pooling, the fact that the idea of European sovereignty or technological sovereignty has become more central, and the fact that the European Union has succeeded in participating in the health crisis in its health, vaccination and economic management part of the diplomatic achievements.
The second achievement was to create a discourse of multilateralism aimed at players who wanted not to be trapped in Sino-American rivalry, while being completely clear on its alliance system. This is a talk aimed at countries like India, with a desire to change the terms of trade with African countries, Gulf countries or even Indonesia. France plays a key role in issues related to common things, such as the fight against global warming or biodiversity loss. He is active in implementing the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).
The third aspect, the most important, is his clarity on the rate of deterioration in the strategic environment. He was the first president to apparently admit rearmament. He clearly broke the legacy of his predecessors, neglecting the defense budget, while deciding on outside interventions. At the same time, he was working to convince his allies in Europe of the need to arm themselves.
Finally, to produce medium- and long-term effects, a foreign policy depends on the economic stability of the country. France’s fundamental problem is as follows: its diplomatic positioning has experienced a decline in return at a time when its security has demanded additional costs. The effect of scissors is predictable: higher tendency to take hits and more limited ability to carry them.
The end of the quinquennium marked the end of the French presence in Mali initiated under François Hollande, what assessment can be drawn from this 9-year presence and this departure pushed by the new Malian power?
We must begin by noting that Emmanuel Macron resisted the temptation of external military intervention. Mali is a legacy of the Hollande presidency, as you may recall. At the military level, it is an operation that has always made it possible to “neutralize” jihadists, and therefore limit their progress. These operations are accompanied by efforts to promote “3D” which is to say joint action in defense, diplomacy and development. It also has the virtue of making Europeans understand that the situation in the Sahel has to do with their own security, leading to a certain number of Europeans participating in a moderate way in the effort.
The negative balance is so clear that despite the presence on the ground, Paris did not see the arrival of the two coups, undermined the anti-French sentiment that had developed in the field of information, neglected it and had to deal with information activity recurring in Paris. In addition, these operations resulted in the destruction of military equipment because they mobilized more than five thousand people, unable to distinguish between a mission that, initially was to stop the jihadist (so that is the responsibility of only military elements and that is successful), and the excessive ambition to contribute to the reconstruction of the Malian state, which is impossible in a military operation, especially of this magnitude -on.
The reflection that should lead to critical feedback is to understand how we are going from a logic of counter-terrorism to a logic of rebuilding the state.
Paris is one of the few capitals in Europe where we can still think the whole world about the world.
Has France changed its role within Europe, especially since Angela Merkel’s departure?
Yes and no. Yes, as long as Paris is one of the unique capitals of Europe where we can still think the whole world about the world. This is especially unique within the European Union. Paris remains a capacity for initiative, despite the difficulties we are experiencing. Its position is likely to be better within the European Union in 2022 than in 2017, but Brexit has led to a devastating deterioration in France’s relations with London.
No, if there is a French low investment, explained by an administrative culture, lack of mobilization of means, and a difficulty in exercising influence. Using influence is a job, which requires vision, method and above all consistency. It’s not enough to have ideas and think that everyone will line up with them, they’re very intelligent. There is a structural low investment in European institutions, in the European game in France, compared to other players who have a better command of the actions of Brussels, especially parliamentarians. France’s problem is sending parliamentarians to Brussels who, for the most part, are opposed to the European project. From this point of view, there is a great difficulty for France: on the one hand, Emmanuel Macron is claiming a European position, proving that we need to go further into European construction and, on the other hand partly, he faced political forces that were very anti-European. Union.
Do you think the elimination of the diplomatic corps through senior civil service reform is likely to influence this ability to “think globally about the world” that you describe?
With the strength of France, there is no doubt that there is a strong military culture and a strong diplomatic culture. The two are together. Will this reform change this knowledge, or help speed up an adaptation, a modernization of the French diplomatic tool? Frankly, there is a specificity in the diplomatic profession that has to do with particular proficiency in unique languages, the art of negotiation, the ability to navigate different environments, to live in difficult countries. Diplomats must keep these specific traits at the heart of their identity, while learning the course of their careers. Reform is always difficult.
In conclusion, what major foreign policy issues await the winner of Sunday’s election?
These are the clear consequences and the consequences of the war in Ukraine. This is the systematic topic. The next president must act immediately for European security in the harsh sense of the term. And don’t deserve to be wrong.