I don’t often sympathise with Donald Trump, but when I do it’s when he travels to Europe to meet with the motley crew of what passes as the continent’s best and brightest these days. Sure, Trump ain’t no Reagan, but Macron, Merkel and May sure as hell aren’t Mitterrand, Kohl and Thatcher either. If tough times have made for great leaders, I’m not sure what this says about the 2010s, but it’s nothing flattering.
Trump’s relation with Macron – or rather Macron’s relationship with Trump – is particularly puzzling, as if the French “Graduate” President can’t quite make up his mind whether he loves or hates his American counterpart. Perhaps it’s both; perhaps Macron is still going through the difficult teenage years and sees Trump as a father figure, whose approval or at least attention he craves, and will do everything from make nice to treat mean to get Papa Trump to notice him and take him seriously.
On the one hand, Macron can’t seem to keep his hands off Trump:
On the other hand, he takes every opportunity to turkey-slap Trump in front of the international audience. Take his much trumpeted around the world speech indicting nationalism as the source of all evil (“the opposite of patriotism”). Or, better still, the call for “a true European army” strong enough in the future to defend itself against China, Russia and America. The United States is France’s NATO ally, not to mention a country which twice in the past hundred years sent millions of its young men to fight and die to prevent the French from having to learn German. How incredibly rude and juvenile to declare liberal and democratic America as a future enemy alongside the authoritarian Russia and communist China. And what a way to reinforce Trump’s – and a large number of Americans’ – perception of Europeans as pathetic, weak, fickle ingrates, who look at America to defend them from outsiders through NATO at the same time as they look to defend themselves from America.
Macron’s call for a European army was soon echoed by France’s finance minister Bruno La Maire’s call for Europe to become “a kind of empire”, like China and the United States are, but this being Europe, “a peaceful empire that’s a constitutional state”, of course. This is akin to Rome deciding to finally be an empire circa 450AD; the cradles are as empty as the treasury and the barbarians are well and truly past the gates. Both France and Germany have tried on several occasions over the past two centuries to build continent-wide empires, which never ended well for all concerned, much less Europe as a whole. I suspect that France and Germany acting in concert will have even less luck on this score.
European leaders perennially talk about an European army but no one wants to spend money on any army, whether the European one or the national ones – an uncomfortable fact also now perennially brought up by Trump, who’s sick and tired of providing a security umbrella for Europe which prefers to make love, not war, and instead spends money to buy votes through its generous welfare states.
At the same time as he’s poking the United States in the eye, Macron (now down to 20 per cent popularity in opinion polls) is also setting its sights on the European Union, criticising its current set of administrators as “ultra-liberal”. “We need a stronger Europe that protects,” says Macron. Many of you will no doubt be surprised that the EU is at the moment run by “conservatives”. That’s going to change, if Macron has anything to do with it:
At a party congress in Madrid, liberal leaders officially announced the formation of a new coalition of progressive forces, anchored by the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and French President Emmanuel Macron’s La République En Marche party.
If ALDE sound more like classical lefties than classical liberals, fear not – they are actually to the right of the third large EU political grouping, the Party of European Socialists. PES, in turn, doesn’t even include Europe’s Green and communist parties.
Increasingly unpopular at home, Macron possibly fancies himself having a future as an European statesman. As the French proverb goes, be not a baker if your head be butter. Too many butterheads will spoil the new European Empire, which is just as well.