Inside, confidential and off the record
Macron the Conqueror
French President Emmanuel Macron attends a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France on June 3, 2017.
France is back, thanks to a president committed to disrupting politics at home and abroad.
In advance of an Anglo-French summit this week, French President Emmanuel Macron officially offered to loan the Bayeux Tapestry to Britain. The tapestry depicts the campaign that culminated in the victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 of William the Conqueror —the duke of Normandy and later king of England — over Harold Godwinson, the last of the Anglo-Saxon kings. It suits the martial setting of the conference, to be held at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst near London, and its focus on Anglo-French defense cooperation.
More broadly, however, the loan of the tapestry is a fitting diplomatic gesture: It symbolizes who Macron is and what he wants to do at home and abroad.
William the Conqueror's accomplishment was to create a new Anglo-Norman polity that has, more or less ever since, locked English politics into those of the European continent. That Macron is drawing attention to this historical truth is not necessarily meant as a rebuke of Brexit, so much as a powerful reminder that a millennium of linked history, ancestry, and culture goes deeper than the populist politics of the moment.
William's own dual identity as an English king and a Norman duke is an implicit rebuke to the fetishizing of nativist identities promoted by the European populism of which Macron is the antithesis. It also speaks to Macron's own political approach, which seeks to generate new political categories and possibilities. And it seems to be working. Eight months since he took office, he is polling at 53 percent approval at home (up by 9 percent in the past two months) and has confidently returned France to a central place in European leadership and the world stage.
Macron's election campaign itself transcended the West's inherited categories of left and right — categories forged on the anvil of the transition from an agrarian to an industrial economy. Macron recognized that these political coordinates no longer provide a coherent approach to the economic and social problems faced by deindustrializing Western states after many decades of rapid globalization and the rise of the information economy.
Of course, Donald Trump and the leaders of Brexit also saw this early and won political victories on that basis. But each movement proposes a different way out of the malady it commonly identifies. For Trump, it's America first, which among other things means threatening to pull out of trade deals. For the Brexiteers, it's the U.K. first, which means it's all about new trade deals. But for Macron, it's neither about rejecting globalization nor doubling down on it but carving a middle way between the two, one that proposes a strong France in Europe and a strong Europe in the world.
Domestically, Macron has trodden a broadly pro-market path, most notably in his major reform of French labor law in September 2017. But he has also made some protectionist excursions to fend off the populist threat, particularly in the temporary nationalization of certain shipyards threated by an Italian takeover, limited price fixing in agriculture, and a move against rules on EU “posted workers,” which allow companies to move employees around the EU single market without full compliance with local labor laws. It's hard to measure political impact on the economy in only eight months, but French business confidence is clearly up.
On social policy, although he is liberal on issues such as marriage equality, he is conservative on immigration, most evident in his attempts to reduce the number of refugee asylum claims in France, which last year numbered more than 100,000. In a visit to the northern port of Calais this week, Macron delivered a tough message about the port city being a dead end for migrants seeking to get to the U.K.
With respect to the European Union, Macron's oft-rehearsed slogan is “ Une Europe qui protège les Européens ” (“A Europe that protects Europeans”). The idea is that while he wants a broadly free market within Europe, he is skeptical of having the European market flooded with cheap goods from emerging markets such as China.
Macron may not get the kind of eurozone reform he wants in the short term, given general German resistance to closer fiscal integration, although the key here is how the ongoing German coalition negotiations go. Meanwhile, his project for closer defense integration will need to harmonize with NATO and work out what role, if any, the U.K. will have once it leaves the EU, which are both tricky questions, as we'll see in the summit this week.
Emile Simpson / Foreign Policy / Friday, January 18th, 2018
(Emile Simpson is a research fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows. He was formerly a British Army officer.)
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