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European confusion and Macron’s leadership

Helmut Sorge | Posted : February 23, 2018

The European Union is presently presenting itself to the world in a confused state or, should we say, in a bewildered, uncertain and troubled state. The Brexit, the painful and difficult divorce of Britain from its continental partners, is preoccupying the minds, not at least since the government in London has yet to decide either it accepts or refuses several million of Europeans settled in the UK, protecting them and securing their future. This is only one of the issues, and since about half of all marriages in Europe are ending in divorce and painful court appearances, a difficult separation is nothing surprising for Europeans citizens. They trust, just as in their private lives, that time will settle the future. That it would be effortless to unite the European Union, 27 nations in all. The migrants, the difficult integration, the rise of populism, racism, nationalism, the demand for troops to be stationed at the borders, and higher walls to be build, even higher than the one Donald Trump wants to erect between the US and Mexico (on 1954 miles). The traditional parties, the conservatives, socialists, social democrats and ecologists, all are under pressure since populism is not waning and not disappearing like a nightmare after a heavy meal. The radical fringes are growing and terrorism is a feared threat. People of Europe are troubled by the arrival of endless waves of refugees, some escaping wars, and others fleeing misery, poverty and starvation. 

Just this month, six African migrants were killed in a drive by shooting in Macerata, a small town in the center of Italy. A man was arrested: he is a right wing and racist activist whose only motive was hate. Just hate. No empathy. The Germans, who are been trying for months now to form a government will continue to accept 220 000 migrants per year, which is a generous figure since the presence of one million plus immigrants makes a swift integration difficult. In the newest opinion polls, the right wing AfD is supported by 14 percent of the population. The figure may not be alarmist, since Marine Le Pen in France, after all, was a Presidential candidate who received the vote of 10 million French citizens (33,9% of eligible voters) who chose her extreme, anti-Europe and anti-immigration  program. Yet, Germany has forever to deal with and consider its history, dominated by racist nationalists, floating for 12 years on a wave of insanity into annihilation of human minds and culture. The Berlin government is, and that is understandable, troubled by dramatic political changes in European countries like Poland for example or Hungary, where immigrants are not welcome, despite all European treaties and agreements. Austria is falling in step with these repressive partners as well, despite its strong catholic Christian values. Italy is facing an election in the newt weeks, and it seems like the nationalist and anti-immigration party “Five stars” is about to conquer power. One man, who is trying to prevent the collapse of political sanity in Italy, cannot be elected as Prime Minister, although he ran Italian governments three times already-Silvio Berlusconi. The conservative billionaire has been excluded from Parliament (until 2019) because of a fraud conviction, which   meant jail. The political veteran who  disapproves of  Trump was spared time behind bars because of his age, 81. Not a young man to run a government, but “Nono” as he is teased by  his people, the now mellowed “ grandfather”, tries to be the kingmaker, preventing the right wing to grab too much of the governmental power, which would mean another setback for besieged democracies in Europe. Berlusconi rejuvenated his image. The plastic surgery and his hair transplants gave him a “waxworks appearance” (as said by the New York Times). Whether we like it or not, Trump is sending through his radical and brash political decisions, many signals to the world, by blaming globalization for nations  problems, pulling out of international agreements at precisely the moment  cooperative efforts are most needed, accusing migrants for crime (contradicted by statistics), advocating for protectionism and threatening a trade war with nations like China. 

The German chancellor Angela Merkel, not really a woman with an inspiring global vision, warned about the dangers: ”have we actually learned the lesson of history? We haven’t really. The spirit of multilateralism that rebuilt Europe and formed our international institutions in the aftermath of the second World War is now under threat. We see populism rising, we see a polarizing atmosphere and a polarizing state of affairs”. And, she did not even dare to whisper, we have to endure Trump. For the German chancellor, who is managing the countries affairs for 12 years now, only one man, a young man, would be her most trusted partner in Europe. It’s Emmanuel Macron, just 4O, admired for his intellectual approach, and particularly for his engagement to give Europe a new direction and a stronger unity, to modernize its institutions, which seem stale and without phantasy or innovations. The former banker, who was for two years minister of economy in the  socialist government of Francois Hollande, surprised and convinced Europeans like Ms Merkel with his constructive pro-European speech at the Sorbonne University in September of last year. 

No other country asked him to lead Europe out of its political division and depression, but Macron just turned into a leader, sharing his views with Merkel who is a trusted partner, possibly his only one in Europe. The German leader is not competing with the French President for a major role in Europe. In her private life, she is a rather modest person, brought up in unpretentious surroundings in the communist East Germany. No bling-bling, no vacations in Palm Beach or St Tropez. Macron, on the other hand, is enchanted by the glory of France, by the “Château of Versailles” where he gathered a few days prior to the “World Economic Forum” in Davos, 140 world economic and political  leaders ,like executives of Goldman Sachs, Google, and Facebook. Sure, the three star French cook Alain Ducasse was hired to prepare the meal, worth the glory of the Chateau and the style of the French President whose “world embracing politics set him up”, said the magazine “New Yorker”. Writer Adam Copnik, who observed and wrote at length about the uncrowned European leader, was impressed by “the specific voice and tone of the best of the French haut-fonctionnaire class, the administrative and managerial actors of the French republic”. For the “New Yorker” author , Macron is “neither left nor right nor center—merely and entirely haute”. Critics accuse the French head of state as a loof, related to wealth and fame. Yet, the former banker is actively engaged to curtail or slow down consequences of the globalization, which led to “an unsustainable Darwinian struggle, a race to the bottom”. In other words: to short-term profits for a few, the upper one percent, and to an increasingly unjust distribution of wealth, and to the deprived resisting unequality which is not eliminated actively by traditional parties. 

In Davos, the French President had the courage, in his speech, to make fun of Donald Trump, who arrived late at the meeting since his government was shut down. Washington ran out of money, partly because of the work of his opponents, the Democrats. Macron said :”upon arriving here the most evident paradox to me is to be talking about globalization in a place totally cut off from the rest of the world by snow. When you look through the window…it is really hard to believe in global warming. Thankfully, and of course, you didn’t invite any climate skeptics this year”. Macron, who spoke the first twenty minutes of his one hour speech in English, did not hesitate to deplore the significant crisis of globalization, which, in his opinion, “can only be met with a collective and multilateral effort”. He added that “France is back at the core of Europe, because there cannot be French success without European success”. The skillful and talented politician proposed in Davos a “new foundation of Europe”. He thinks that in 2018 the Europeans should fix some short-term issues on energy, digital technology, migration and investment. His priority is the design of a ten year strategy for Europe, a blueprint for the future including relationships with China and the USA. ”Our vision, our DNA in terms of the relationship between freedom, justice, fairness and individuals rights, are unique. This balance of values only exist in Europe. ”A stronger Europe and a multilateral approach to globalization are needed” to avoid the fragmentation of the world. Macron’s vision places Europe in the center of contrasting systems and philosophies: on one hand, the unregulated, arrogant and ruthless capitalism of the US, and on the other hand the repressive, antidemocratic model of China. The French President asked the European countries to start working together as 27, since a relapse into sterile nationalism, incapable of addressing the true challenges, would be a danger for the fragile and troubled coherence of Europe. In an increasingly unjust world, democracies are in danger of corrosion from within, providing fertile ground for nationalists, whose only solution is to turn inward and close its borders towards the world. 

Macron’s message was clear: Europe needs to be more ambitious, and countries “reluctant to follow” should not block others from advancing, because ambition will enable the Euro zone to become stronger”. Despite his enthusiasm, Emmanuel Macron admitted flaws in globalization: ”economic growth is not a goal, it remains a means: the desire for economic growth has sometimes made us forget what people are prepared to accept to obtain it”. Macron believes that the world is challenged by a series of new economic and geopolitical phenomena, some of which could have been anticipated. He admitted that “many governments are tempted to respond to the fears and uncertainties with a simplistic approach, by closing the borders”. The imagined saver of Europe  was sober in his conclusions: ”even in France, if I do not give meaning back to this globalization” and  fail to convince the sceptics, the in “five, ten or fifteen years, the nationalists, the extremists and those suggesting to leave the system will win, and that will be true in every country”. 

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