EU must assert autonomy in face of US-China dominance, says Macron

French president says US election chance to pursue sovereignty amid rising populism

European leaders must not let up on efforts to construct an autonomous bloc that is capable of resisting the duopoly of China and the US, Emmanuel Macron has said in his first extended response to the US presidential election.

The French president said the US would only respect Europe if it was sovereign with respect to its own defence, technology and currency. Warning that US values and interests were not quite the same as Europe’s, he said: “It is not tenable that our international policies should be dependent on it or to be trailing behind it.” The same need for independence applied even more to China, he added.

His analysis came in a marathon interview in the journal Le Grand Continent, conducted last Thursday, in which he called for a redoubling of the protection of the values of the European enlightenment against “barbarity and obscurantism”. Le Grand Continent is the review attached to the leading French thinktank Groupe d’Études Géopolitiques.

Macron suggested 2020 may prove to be a landmark year similar to 1945, 1968 and 2007. Much of the interview considered the extent to which the forces that led to Donald Trump’s election in 2016, and the UK’s Brexit vote, could be contained, and reversed.

“The changeover of the administration in America is an opportunity to to pursue in a truly peaceful and calm manner what allies need to understand among themselves – which is that we need to continue to build our independence for ourselves, as the US does for itself and as China does for itself.”

He explicitly claimed that the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, was resisting German politicians who have described the search for European autonomy as an illusion, saying such a view is a “historical misinterpretation”.

“It is vital that our Europe finds the ways and the means to decide for itself to rely on itself, not to depend on others in every area, technological, health, geopolitics, and to be able to cooperate with whomever it chooses,” he said.

Macron added that although the US was Europe’s historical ally, cherishing similar principles, “our values are not quite the same. We have an attachment to social democracy, to more equality. Our reactions are not quite the same”.

Macron, who previously criticised Nato as being “brain-dead”, said: “Europe has a lot of thoughts unthought. On a geostrategic level we had forgotten to think because we thought our geopolitical relations through Nato.”

Calling for a reinvention of international cooperation, he said the current multilateral frameworks were blocked. “The UN security council no longer produces useful solutions today. We all have some responsibility to bear when some [institutions] such as the World Health Organization find themselves hostages to the crises of multilateralism.”

He said the deep crisis of cooperation was a crisis born of conflicting values, including the rise of neoconservatism and a breakdown in the universal principle of inviolable human rights. This rupture, he said, “is the fruit of ideological choices fully endorsed by powers that see in it the means to rise, and a form of fatigue, of breakdown”.

Without mentioning Turkey directly, he said: “Authoritarian regional powers are re-emerging, theocracies are re-emerging. It is an extraordinary acceleration of a return of religion on the political scene in a number of these countries.”

Europe, Macron suggested, was fighting against “a colossal step backward in history”, led by those who use radical Islamism to challenge freedom of expression. Insisting he respected cultures and civilisations, he said “nevertheless I am not going to change our laws because they shock elsewhere”.

He attributed some of the rise of populism to the effect of a breakpoint in the previous Washington consensus about the virtues of globalisation. “When the middle classes no longer have the means to progress and see their situation sliding year after year, a doubt about democracy sets in. That is what we are seeing precisely everywhere, from the US of Donald Trump, to Brexit and the warning shots in our country,” he said.

Macron warned that social media had become an instrument for the rejection of all expertise, be it political, academic or scientific. “We have not organised a public order for this space. The virtual space over determines our choices today, and at the same time it transforms our political life. And therefore it disrupts democracies and our lives.”

He said he was pursuing the concept of a golden hour, the idea that social media firms have 60 minutes to identify and take down posts that glorify and incite terrorism and hate.

Contributor

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

The GuardianTramp

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