Lebanese prime minister departs from Saudi Arabia and arrives in France

The New York Times reports: Lebanon’s absent prime minister arrived in France on Saturday morning after two weeks in Saudi Arabia, a mysterious stay that touched off intense speculation that he was being held against his will.

The prime minister, Saad Hariri, who has dismissed the speculation but has not publicly explained the nature or length of his stay in Saudi Arabia, later met with France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, at the Élysée Palace.

The office of Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, also said on Saturday on Twitter that the two leaders had spoken and that Mr. Hariri had said he would be in Lebanon for the country’s Independence Day holiday, which is Wednesday.

Mr. Hariri announced on Nov. 4 from Riyadh, the Saudi capital, that he was stepping down as Lebanon’s prime minister, but officials in Lebanon have said that his departure would not take effect until he delivered his resignation in person in Beirut.

Mr. Hariri’s unexpected trip and resignation unsettled the Middle East, sparking a political crisis in Lebanon and even raising fears of war. Saudi Arabia was widely seen as pressuring Mr. Hariri to resign as part of its escalating regional feud with Iran and its effort to isolate Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia and political party that is part of Mr. Hariri’s coalition government.

Mr. Hariri, for his part, said he feared for his safety in Lebanon.

With European diplomats scrambling to defuse the crisis, France seized the role of mediator. France has strong ties to Lebanon, dating from the early 20th century, and to the Hariri family. Mr. Hariri’s father, Rafik, was close to former President Jacques Chirac. The father, also a prime minister of Lebanon, was assassinated in 2005. [Continue reading…]

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Emmanuel Macron: ‘As president, you cannot have a desire to be loved’

Der Spiegel interviews French President Emmanuel Macron: Mr. President, since entering office in May, you have made significant waves around the world. The German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who you read during your university studies, once described Napoleon Bonaparte as “the Weltgeist (“world spirit”) on horseback.” Do you believe that a single person can, in fact, steer history?

Macron: No. Hegel viewed the “great men” as instruments of something far greater. It should be said that in referring to him in that way, he wasn’t being particularly nice to Napoleon, because he of course knows that history can always outflank you, that it is always larger than the individual. Hegel believes that an individual can indeed embody the zeitgeist for a moment, but also that the individual isn’t always clear they are doing so.

DER SPIEGEL: How must a president, a politician, behave to move things forward and to change history?

Macron: Personally, I don’t think it’s possible to do great things alone or through individual actions. On the contrary, I think it is only possible to know what to do in a specific moment once you have understood the zeitgeist, and it is only possible to move things forward if you have a sense of responsibility. And that is exactly the goal I have set for myself: to try to encourage France and the French people to change and develop further. But that can only be done as a collective, with one another. You have to bundle the strength of those who want to take that step. The same is true for Europe.

(The president’s dog wanders in.)

Macron: Nemo, sit!

DER SPIEGEL: Nemo … did you name him that?

Macron: Yes. He was abandoned as a puppy and spent a year in an animal shelter. I had decided that I wanted a dog from an animal shelter. Normally, presidents have purebred dogs, but he is a Labrador-griffon mix. Absolutely adorable. Quite a stroke of fortune, isn’t it? From the animal shelter to the Élysée Palace. I quite like the idea, even if he has little idea where he has ended up.

DER SPIEGEL: You have lived for the last five months here in the Élysée, an almost mythical place. Do you feel that you have changed at all? Infallibility? Megalomania?

Macron: I try to follow certain rules. Nothing here should become habitual, because routine lends one a deceptive feeling of security. You begin not noticing certain things and lose your focus on what’s important. Uncertainty and change keep you attentive. This place and, to a certain extent, my office, help me avoid developing habits. The function of president in France is one of significant symbolic value; it can’t be compared with that of prime minister or cabinet member. Everything you do, everything you say – but also what you don’t say – suddenly has meaning. That might sound quite formidable or even stressful, but I think it is a product of the history of this role.

DER SPIEGEL: What’s it like to live here?

Macron: It is a place laden with history. The emperors spent time here, Napoleon I and Napoleon III. In the Fourth Republic, it was the palace of a president without powers. Only in the Fifth Republic did Charles de Gaulle move back in. It is a place where power has left its mark – over the course of centuries, ever since the revolution. You just sort of become part of it and continue the history. But, of course, there is a sense of gravitas.

DER SPIEGEL: That sounds a bit suffocating.

Macron: No, because you can leave this place when you want to. I go out and I say and do what I want – even if people may find that shocking. One could, of course, decide to be suffocated by all the pomp here. But if you decide to resist it, then you won’t be suffocated.

DER SPIEGEL: It seems your predecessors weren’t always particularly successful in that effort.

Macron: What is clear is that being president is the end of innocence for you as an individual. Nothing is innocent anymore when you are president. And that changes your life dramatically. Normally, everyone can afford the luxury of doing things that make no sense. They do things, no matter what it is, and nobody cares. But when you are president, everything is significant, at least for the others. Everything is important and could even have profound consequences. That is sometimes troubling, yes. But it isn’t overwhelming.

DER SPIEGEL: Do you think that Angela Merkel feels the same way?

Macron: Germany is different from France. You are more Protestant, which results in a significant difference. Through the church, through Catholicism, French society was structured vertically, from top to bottom. I am convinced that it has remained so until today. That might sound shocking to some – and don’t worry, I don’t see myself as a king. But whether you like it or not, France’s history is unique in Europe. Not to put too fine a point on it, France is a country of regicidal monarchists. It is a paradox: The French want to elect a king, but they would like to be able to overthrow him whenever they want. The office of president is not a normal office – that is something one should understand when one occupies it. You have to be prepared to be disparaged, insulted and mocked – that is in the French nature. And: As president, you cannot have a desire to be loved. Which is, of course, difficult because everybody wants to be loved. But in the end, that’s not important. What is important is serving the country and moving it forward. [Continue reading…]

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Donald Trump’s rogue state: U.S. has no right to terminate Iran accord says EU

Politico reports: The EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said Friday that the United States had no right to unilaterally terminate the Iran nuclear accord. She called the agreement “effective” and said there had been “no violations of any of the commitments” in the deal.

At a news conference at the European Commission’s Brussels headquarters, Mogherini gave a strongly-worded rebuke of the U.S., which has been a chief ally of the EU on security matters, including the response to Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.

Her comments were aimed directly at U.S. President Donald Trump, moments after he gave a speech in Washington saying he would not certify Iran’s compliance with the agreement, and was asking Congress to adopt legislation that would potentially trigger the reimposition of sanctions on Tehran.

“More than two years ago, exactly in July 2015, the entire international community welcomed the results of 12 years of intense negotiations on the Iran nuclear program,” Mogherini said, adding: “It is not a bilateral agreement. It does not belong to any single country. And it is not up to any single country to terminate it. It is a multilateral agreement, which was unanimously endorsed by the United Nations Security Council.”

Joining Mogherini in what amounted to extraordinary isolation of the U.S. president, French President Emmanuel Macron, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a joint statement reaffirming their support for the accord, which they described as “in our shared national security interest.” [Continue reading…]

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European leaders criticize Trump’s disavowal of Iran deal

The New York Times reports: Iran, Russia and European leaders roundly condemned President Trump’s decision on Friday to disavow the Iran nuclear deal, saying that it reflected the growing isolation of the United States, threatened to destabilize the Middle East and could make it harder to resolve the growing tensions on the Korean penninsula.

The reaction was far from panicked, as Mr. Trump’s decision punts to Congress the critical decision of whether the United States will reimpose sanctions on Iran — a step that would effectively sink the deal.

But Mr. Trump also warned that unless the nuclear agreement was altered and made permanent — to prohibit Iran from ever developing nuclear weapons — he would terminate the agreement, an ultimatum that threw the future of the accord into question.

Though they avoided direct criticism of Mr. Trump, Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Emmanuel Macron of France said in a rare joint statement that they “stand committed” to the 2015 nuclear deal and that preserving it was “in our shared national security interest.”

“The nuclear deal was the culmination of 13 years of diplomacy and was a major step towards ensuring that Iran’s nuclear program is not diverted for military purposes,” they added.

Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s foreign minister, said that Mr. Trump was sending “a difficult and also from our point of view dangerous signal.”

He said that the Iran deal, and other diplomatic achievements, were necessary “to convince countries like North Korea, and maybe also others, that it is possible to create security without acquiring nuclear weapons.”

“Destroying this agreement would, worldwide, mean that others could no longer rely on such agreements — that’s why it is a danger that goes further than Iran,” he added. [Continue reading…]

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Merkel should follow Macron’s lead on Europe

Christiane Hoffmann writes: After the election victory, it didn’t take long for the congratulations to come in. Just one day afterwards, the most powerful man in the world, Donald Trump, called German Chancellor Angela Merkel with his best wishes for her party’s success.

That was in March, after the Christian Democrats had just won an election in the tiny state of Saarland. A half year later, though, the U.S. president was conspicuously reticent with his compliments, waiting several days after last Sunday’s general election in Germany before finally calling on Thursday. One could see it as a form of brutal honesty: Given Merkel’s weak result, there isn’t much to celebrate. But perhaps it was also a preview of the new reality: Merkel’s loss of power.

Since the election, the chancellor is no longer viewed as the uncontested leader of the German government, a woman who almost secured an absolute majority for her conservatives in 2013. Instead, if she manages to assemble a coalition with the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) and the Greens, she’ll be heading up a government experiment born of necessity. And she will be a chancellor whose turn at the top is coming to an end. That will erode Merkel’s authority on the global stage. Leaders like Trump, Putin and Erdogan know only too well when someone in power has passed their zenith. Indeed, that may have been a reason for Merkel’s uncanny imperturbability both on election night and since. Anything to avoid showing signs of weakness. [Continue reading…]

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Macron lays out vision for ‘profound’ changes in post-Brexit EU

The Guardian reports: The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has set out his plans for a “profound transformation” of the EU with deeper political integration to win back the support of disgruntled citizens, but suggested a bloc moving forward at differing speeds could become somewhere the UK may “one day find its place again”.

Macron, a staunchly pro-European centrist who came to power in May after beating the Front National’s Marine Le Pen, pleaded for the EU to return to its founders’ “visionary” ideas, which were born out of the disaster of two world wars.

In what was hailed on Tuesday as one of the most pro-European speeches by an EU leader in years, he spoke up for common EU policies on defence, asylum and tax, called for the formation of European universities, and promised to play Ode to Joy, the EU anthem, at the Paris Olympics in 2024.

He said time was running out for the EU to reinvent itself to counter the rise of far-right nationalism and “give Europe back to its citizens”.

With Brexit looming, Macron warned the rest of Europe against the dangers of anti-immigrant nationalism and fragmentation. “We thought the past would not come back … We thought we had learned the lessons,” he told a crowd of European students at Sorbonne University in Paris.

Days after a far-right party entered the German parliament for the first time in 70 years, Macron said an isolationist attitude had resurfaced “because of blindness … because we forgot to defend Europe. The Europe that we know is too slow, too weak, too ineffective”.

Macron said he was deliberately not saying much about Brexit in his speech, but a reinvigorated EU with various levels of integration and cooperation was somewhere the UK may “one day find its place again”. He left the suggestion deliberately vague. [Continue reading…]

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Russia used Facebook to try to spy on Macron campaign

Reuters reports: Russian intelligence agents attempted to spy on President Emmanuel Macron’s election campaign earlier this year by creating phony Facebook personas, according to a U.S. Congressman and two other people briefed on the effort.

About two dozen Facebook accounts were created to conduct surveillance on Macron campaign officials and others close to the centrist former financier as he sought to defeat far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen and other opponents in the two-round election, the sources said. Macron won in a landslide in May.

Facebook said in April it had taken action against fake accounts that were spreading misinformation about the French election. But the effort to infiltrate the social networks of Macron officials has not previously been reported. [Continue reading…]

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A sustainable solution for Syria will not be found by rehabilitating Assad

Kim Ghattas writes: Twenty-five years ago, French sociologist Michel Seurat penned a series of essays that brought to light what he described as “l’Etat de barbarie,” the state of barbarism, inherent in the Assads’ rule. He detailed their savagery in repressing the Islamist uprising of the early 1980s, with summary executions of dozens of villagers, hundreds of prisoners shot to death in their cells, and indiscriminate shelling of whole towns.

“The crumbling of the political legitimacy of the regime translates on the ground to a reactivation of forms of legitimacy that precede political structures,” he wrote. In other words, the solidarity of ethnic and sectarian groups, rather than sociopolitical organizations, held sway. President Hafez al-Assad’s political vision had devolved to consisting solely of “tying the destiny of the Alawite community to his own destiny.”

Seurat would pay the ultimate price for his work. He was kidnapped in Beirut in 1985, at the height of the civil war, by the Islamic Jihad, a group with ties to Syria and Iran. He was executed in captivity, his body only found and repatriated to France in 2005. As both Trump and Macron broach the possibility of reconciling themselves to Assad’s reign in Damascus, his writings remain a cautionary tale about the costs of that approach.

Bashar al-Assad himself was once the guest of a French president for Bastille Day. Nicolas Sarkozy, eager to do the opposite of everything his predecessor had done, rolled out the red carpet in 2008 for the Syrian leader, who had been transformed into an international pariah by Jacques Chirac and George W. Bush.

But Sarkozy’s solicitousness marked a reversion to an earlier pattern. If the Holy Grail for international diplomats is the achievement of regional peace in the Middle East, peace between Syria and Israel has long been identified as a first step toward it. As Henry Kissinger once said, “You can’t make war in the Middle East without Egypt, and you can’t make peace without Syria.” That one sentence sent endless diplomats and officials on the road to Damascus in a vain quest to persuade Bashar’s father, President Hafez al-Assad, to sign on the dotted line of various peace accords. The signature never came.

At first, there was more hope in Bashar, a British-educated ophthalmologist with a pretty wife, who kept making the right noises about peace and promising domestic reforms — promises that sounded good enough that everyone kept coming back, hoping the next visit would seal the deal.

Assad’s isolation began when his regime was accused of ordering the assassination of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in a massive truck bomb on Beirut’s seaside corniche on Feb. 14, 2005. Huge protests ensued in Lebanon, calling for an end to the 30-year Syrian occupation of that country. With Bush and Chirac, a close friend of Hariri, leading the charge, the international community ostracized Assad and forced his 15,000 troops into a humiliating retreat out of the country that the Assad family considered a part of Syria.

Sarkozy’s 2008 invitation to the “well behaved autocrat,” as Le Monde described him then, ended five years of painful isolation for Assad. It was a period during which his political obituary was being drafted and people close to the regime in Damascus would joke to you in hushed tones about who should turn off the lights on the way out of the country.

What motivated Sarkozy was the belief that unlike his predecessor, he could forge a different relationship with Assad, and that his persona and cunning could persuade the ruler of Damascus to change his ways. (The same self-confidence might be said to have motivated Secretary of State John Kerry, who was one of the last to withdraw his faith in Assad after his forces started shooting protesters in 2011.)

One can speculate about an alternative course of events if Sarkozy had not rehabilitated Assad in 2008, one where perhaps the pressure had not let up and Assad would have had to deliver on his vague promises to reform. Or possibly popular dissent would have swelled up sooner than it did in 2011, but would not have earned the same ruthless response from a leader already cowed into submission. In these scenarios Syria could have remained a country intact. We will never know.

But today it’s worth pondering the trajectory on which Macron’s approach is placing Syria and the region. What France wants from Syria is no longer peace with Israel, or even a rejection of its alliance with Iran. Assad, in any case, can deliver neither of those things. Macron’s focus is understandably on counterterrorism and stemming the flow of jihadis from Syria into Europe.

In his much-scrutinized and wide-ranging interview with Le Figaro, Macron made two key points on Syria. The first one was the statement about Assad not being the enemy of France. The other was a clarification of his position on Assad’s future. Having once said that there was no solution to the conflict in Syria with Assad in power, he clarified, “I never said that the destitution of Bashar al-Assad was a prerequisite for everything, because no one has introduced to me his legitimate successor.”

But as France well knows, there’s also a price for keeping Assad in power. In 1981, agents suspected of working for the Syrian secret service assassinated Louis Delamare, the French ambassador in Lebanon, in broad daylight in Beirut. In 1983, the two attacks against the U.S. Marines and French paratroopers in Beirut were blamed on the Islamic Jihad (an early version of Hezbollah), which was tied to Iran and Syria. In the mid-1980s, Paris suffered a string of terrorist attacks that killed dozens and were linked directly or indirectly to groups with ties to Syria.

This may seem like ancient history, but the Assad regime has also made veiled threats against the West far more recently. Assad’s cousin, businessman Rami Makhlouf, warned in a New York Times interview: “Nobody can guarantee what will happen after, God forbid anything happens to this regime. … They should know when we suffer, we will not suffer alone.”

It was another version of a favorite Syrian threat: We can help bring peace to the region, but ignore us at your own peril because we can cause havoc.

At the beginning of the uprising, Syria’s Grand Mufti threatened to send suicide bombers to Europe if Syria came under attack. There is nothing to indicate that the Syrian regime has any connection whatsoever to any of the attacks that recently occurred in Europe, but what dozens of French, Syrian, and Lebanese intellectuals point out in an open letter to Macron is that Assad helps create the environment in which radical groups and jihadis can thrive. Rehabilitating Assad only once again delays a sustainable solution to a problem that has now reached the shores of Europe. [Continue reading…]

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Trump paralyzed by unexpected encounter with Daft Punk

Donald Trump likes military parades but he wasn’t ready for this one on Bastille Day as he sat alongside his new friend, French president Emmanuel Macron, watching a French military band playing a Daft Punk medley:

 

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Why Macron is wrong about Assad

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad writes: There is much to celebrate in Emmanuel Macron’s ascent to the French presidency. The election was a resounding defeat for the forces of reaction. Macron conducted himself with decency and intelligence and achieved his victory without submitting to the prevailing xenophobic impulse. In acknowledging France’s imperial excesses, in standing up to Vladimir Putin, and in resisting Donald Trump’s provocations, he seemed to herald a bold new politics that would align power with principle.

Since assuming power, however, Macron’s statements have been more equivocal. His recent comments on Syria suggest that in the balance between ideals and pragmatism, the president is leaning heavier on the latter. Speaking to the European press, Macron announced his break with past policy. “I haven’t said the deposing of Bashar al-Assad is a prerequisite for everything,” he said. “Because no one has introduced me to his legitimate successor!” Instead, he emphasised the need for “a political and diplomatic roadmap”; because, “We won’t solve the question only with military force.”

The cliche about military force would be meaningful, if it came from the party that is committed to military victory. But the monopoly on violence in Syria is held by the regime and its allies, Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah. Together, they are responsible for over 90 percent of all civilian deaths. The West has deployed its military force primarily against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) and al-Qaeda, and, occasionally, also against anti-Assad fighters (often indiscriminately). France has never confronted Assad; and only under Trump has the US tackled the regime in five rare instances, the most significant being the cruise missile strike on the Shayrat airbase after the sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun. [Continue reading…]

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Macron’s California revolution

Sylvain Cypel writes: Among the many ideas put forward by Emmanuel Macron, the new French president, was to institute an annual speech to the French parliament, a sort of State of the Union à la française. It seems that he couldn’t wait more than ten days after the legislative elections to give it a try. On Monday, in a major speech in the French Parliament, Macron compared his election to a “new start” for a country that is “regaining optimism and hope”; he also introduced a raft of bold proposals for streamlining government. But even bolder than his proposals was the speech itself, and the American-style executive it seemed to usher in.

Along with the speech, there has been Macron’s quasi-official investiture of his wife, Brigitte, as a highly visible First Lady. And then there are the market-driven economic policies he has endorsed. All this has seemed—from the French point of view—emblematic of Macron’s fascination with the United States. Or to be more exact, with the California version of the United States, where Silicon Valley libertarianism mixes with a general progressivism on social issues—access to education and health care, openness to immigration and minorities, support for gay marriage, efforts to control climate change, etc. Didn’t he declare, on June 15, visiting VivaTech, a technological fair, that he intends to transform France in “a nation of start-ups” able to “attract foreign talents”?

Among other proposals announced on Monday, Macron said he planned to reduce by one third the number of representatives and senators in parliament, while offering them bigger staffs to make their work more “fluid” and “efficient.” He wants to abolish parliamentary immunity, so that ministers of the government and members of parliament will remain “accountable for their acts” and can be judged just like normal citizens by regular courts during their mandate. He also wants to lift the current state of emergency by fall, following the passage of a new antiterrorist law. Last but not least, he announced that he will indeed come back once a year to address the Parliament.

It was stunning: a man with hardly any political past or party apparatus rising to win the presidency—and then a vast majority in the National Assembly. It was the French electoral system, a legacy of General de Gaulle, with its two-round voting system, that allowed Macron to pull this off. That system, which emphasizes stability over political fairness, strongly favors the leading party: with only 28.2 percent of the votes in the first round of the legislative elections, the macroniens managed to get 60 percent of the seats in the National Assembly. [Continue reading…]

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French shift on Syria could open doors in Russia

Igor Delanoe writes: In a recent interview with the European press, newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron outlined some of the key principles that shape his foreign policy regarding Europe, the Middle East and Russia. Macron, who assumed office May 14, is ready to tackle security issues stemming from Middle East instability. His approach may pave the way for a greater convergence between Paris and Moscow.

The June 21 interview at Elysee Palace came three days after the victory of his centrist/liberal political movement, La Republique en Marche, in legislative elections.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian met June 20 with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Moscow. They discussed Syria and Ukraine in an atmosphere depicted as constructive by the French press, which emphasized that the objective of Le Drian’s visit was to alleviate tensions with Moscow on key international issues. The trip was a follow-up to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Versailles less than a month earlier. [Continue reading…]

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France’s Macron says sees no legitimate successor to Syria’s Assad

Reuters reports: President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday he saw no legitimate successor to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and France no longer considered his departure a pre-condition to resolving the six-year-old conflict.

He said Assad was an enemy of the Syrian people, but not of France and that Paris’ priority was fighting terrorist groups and ensuring Syria did not become a failed state.

His comments were in stark contrast to those of the previous French administration and echo Moscow’s stance that there is no viable alternative to Assad.

“The new perspective that I have had on this subject is that I have not stated that Bashar al-Assad’s departure is a pre-condition for everything because nobody has shown me a legitimate successor,” Macron said in an interview with eight European newspapers.

“My lines are clear: Firstly, a complete fight against all the terrorist groups. They are our enemies,” he said, adding attacks that killed 230 people in France had come from the region. “We need everybody’s cooperation, especially Russia, to eradicate them.” [Continue reading…]

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America in retreat, Europe en marche

Sylvie Kauffmann writes: As British conservatives licked their wounds a week ago, and French voters were electing hundreds of rookies to Parliament to strengthen the hand of President Emmanuel Macron, Ukrainians at last had a reason to celebrate — and they did, partying by the thousands in Kiev. For them, June 11 was the dawn of the long-awaited era of visa-free travel to Europe. One local magazine called it “Ukraine’s Berlin Wall moment.”

This event, little noticed in the midst of so many political upheavals, is a fresh sign that Europe is moving forward. Giving some 45 million Ukrainians the right to travel freely through the 26 countries of the Schengen area is something of an achievement at a time when, across the European Union, the word “immigration” sounds like a recipe for electoral disaster.

Don’t expect European Union leaders to boast about it; that is not something they are good at. Yet a new mood is taking hold in Brussels and other European capitals these days, a wind of hope and optimism rarely felt in the last two decades.

After so many existential crises, believers in the European Union are suddenly waking up to realize that the reports of its death were greatly exaggerated. The eurozone has not collapsed. Britain’s exit, which shocked and destabilized the union a year ago, is now perceived as an opportunity for the 27 remaining members to regroup. [Continue reading…]

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Outside Britain, the mood in the EU is on the upswing

Natalie Nougayrède writes: That Helmut Kohl, the man who oversaw the reunification of Germany and was for so long a giant on the European stage, should die on the eve of negotiations leading to Britain’s withdrawal from the EU seems symbolic. The former German chancellor made the best of the extraordinary circumstances and public mood that followed the collapse of communism and the opening up of eastern Europe.

Today’s European leaders are, by contrast, confronted with an especially adverse set of circumstances. Trump, Putin, Erdoğan, terrorism, unprecedented flows of migration, unemployment, the rise of populism and, of course, Brexit. But, just as Kohl and his French contemporary François Mitterrand relaunched the European project in the early 1990s, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron are, as Britain prepares to leave, readying their ambitions and vision for the continent.

At stake is no less than Europe’s role in defending liberal democratic values and a rules-based international order at a time when – as one former Obama administration official put it to me recently – Trump’s America is “missing in action and the UK is disappearing into oblivion”. The words may be harsh, but they underscore that Britain’s central weakness lies not only in its internal political confusion – but also with a dangerous ignorance of what its European neighbours are setting their sights on.

The Franco-German engine is not focusing on Brexit but rather on consolidating the 60-year-old European project through further integration and cooperation. At the heart of this stands an emerging Macron-Merkel deal, intended to act as Europe’s new powerhouse. On 15 May, the French and German leaders met and spoke of a new “roadmap” for the EU. The thinking goes like this: in the next two to three years, as France carries out structural economic reforms to boost its credibility, Germany will step up much-needed European financial solidarity and investment mechanisms, and embrace a new role on foreign policy, security and defence. [Continue reading…]

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France polls: Macron’s party wins clear parliamentary majority

BBC News reports: French President Emmanuel Macron’s party has won a clear parliamentary majority, results show, weeks after his own presidential victory.
With nearly all votes counted, his La République en Marche, alongside its MoDem allies, won more than 300 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly.

The winning margin is lower than some expected, with turnout down from 2012.

The party was formed just over a year ago, and half of its candidates have little or no political experience.

The result has swept aside all of the mainstream parties and gives the 39-year-old president a strong mandate in parliament to pursue his pro-EU, business-friendly reform plans. [Continue reading…]

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France’s new president won’t be shy about using military power

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry writes: Macron has given many more signals that he intends to be a hawkish commander-in-chief, and one that will act first and seek alliances later. Alongside trade, the first item on the agenda of his first bilateral summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was strengthened defense and nuclear cooperation, a move that reflects France’s strategic ambitions in the Pacific (where it has a significant presence through its overseas territories) rather than its NATO or EU commitments.

But the most telling sign came in a little-noticed moment during his joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin after their first meeting. Asked about the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Macron responded, “there is a very clear red line on our side,” a blatant dig at Barack Obama’s refusal to enforce that red line. What’s more, he added, “any use of chemical weapons will be met with reprisals and a counterstrike, at least from the French.”

The message wasn’t just intended for Moscow and Damascus, but for Washington, Brussels and Berlin as well: France will act when it must, alone if it must. [Continue reading…]

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