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Geopolitics

Is Emmanuel Macron Ready For New Role As Bonafide World Leader?

Having long articulated a strong pro-European stance, Emmanuel Macron's reelection comes on the heels of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and Angela Merkel's departure. It is a clear opportunity for the French president to take a key leadership role in the world. How should he approach it?

Photo of Emmanuel Macron and Ursula von der Leyen

French President Emmanuel Macron and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen

Dominique Moïsi

-Analysis-

PARIS — In 2022, as in 2017, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy played as Emmanuel Macron walked toward his victory address after being re-elected. Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen had promised, if elected, to remove the European Union flag from her official presidential portrait. Macron --- the pro-European par excellence --- appeared proud to reaffirm his loyalty to “the EU official anthem” as he stepped forth to address the French public. Consider it a final political jab at his vanquished rival by way of music.

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But beyond the seeming continuity, there are more than a few differences between the Macron of 2017, walking alone in victory to the Louvre Esplanade, and the one of 2022 holding his wife's hand, surrounded by a group of children and teenagers, at the Champ-de-Mars beneath the Eiffel Tower.


Five years ago, the sounds of Beethoven resonated with joy and triumph; in 2022, we barely recognized the ode as its rhythm stretched out slowly as Macron arrived. The idea was no longer to celebrate the victory of a single man, but to convey a different message to citizens of France and the world: the situation is serious, war is at our door, but let’s not lose hope.

Unique moment in Europe

Beethoven indeed is no longer only Europe's official anthem, but the universal anthem of the resistance of the spirit in front of barbarism.

Amid such sounds arrives the question: could Emmanuel Macron find himself in the role of a global wartime leader? Will his legacy wind up following in the footsteps of France's World War I leader, Georges Clemenceau? It is a unique context, in which Europe suddenly has become essential again, and the French president finds himself holding all the cards. Can we call it a "Macron moment”?

Since the departure of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the just reelected Macron appears to be the “natural leader” of Europe. Chancellor Olaf Scholz's first steps were hesitant. Macron's trusted partner, Mario Draghi, may not still be in charge in one year's time, after the 2023 parliamentary elections in Italy. In the UK, Boris Johnson only (barely) recovered from the "partygate" scandal thanks to Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

Contrasting with the vast array of opponents within France, Macron has no more rivals to contend with in Europe. In the context of the war in Ukraine, history makes Macron's vision of a powerful Europe with strategic autonomy more meaningful than ever.

However, three mistakes must be avoided.

First, France should not think it's role is to serve as the go-between regarding dialogue with Moscow. This past week's missile attacks against Kyiv,at the very moment that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres was visiting makes it ever more clear that there is nothing to expect from Putin. Any other interpretation would be naive or arrogant.

The de-Putinize question

Instead, the French role should be to avoid encouraging a verbal escalation in dialogue with Moscow, as London and Washington are inclined to do. Providing massive aid to Ukraine and imposing sanctions on Russia are legitimate and necessary responses when more and more revelations are being made about the war crimes committed by the Russian army.

There exists a middle ground.

Yet, stating that our objective is to "de-Putinize" Russia, can only encourage radicalization in Moscow. There exists a middle ground between the illusion of dialogue and a dangerous war of words, which we can describe as “European” and would be neither unethical nor realpolitik.

The French government has confirmed that, following tradition, the re-elected president will make his first official trip to Berlin. The French and German leaders should then head to Kyiv together, in a gesture of European unity and solidarity with Ukraine. To be together in Kyiv is to affirm that Europe exists and has chosen to give its full support to President Volodomyr Zelensky.

Arrival of French President Emmanuel Macron of the Champ-de-Mars 

Unity, firmness, and realism

In his desire to strengthen Europe's strategic autonomy, the French president must integrate more than half of the countries of the EU's diplomatic scope. This takes on greater significance as Finland and Sweden appear ready to join NATO.

In this context, we can't avoid facing the quasi-structural fragility of the United States, and in particular the risk of paralysis that could again threaten the country after the mid-term elections in November 2022, if not the danger of a return of Donald Trump to the White House in 2024.

But considering Russia's nationalist drift, and the "real danger of a World War III", as warned Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, it is important to show unity, firmness and realism. Facing Putin, the West's unity is one of the sine qua non conditions for Europe's unity.

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