By Ali Rıza Taşdelen
French President Emmanuel Macron took over the European Union’s (EU) rotating presidency on Saturday for the next six months. France also took the lead of NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) for a period of one year. In 2021, Turkey commanded this unit.
Although he has not yet announced his candidacy, Macron, who made his Europhile views a key part of his political campaign when winning the presidency in 2017, is hoping it will again serve him in elections scheduled for April 10 and 24.
Europe, on the other hand, is shaken by the “Ukrainian crisis”. The U.S. has sent tons of weapons and ammunition to the Ukraine, which requests to join the NATO. At the same time, tens of thousands of Russian soldiers are massed on the Ukrainian border, and Moscow displays a clear rejection of NATO’s eastward expansion plan. The USA and EU are literally pitted thus against Russia.
The outstanding French and German attitude towards Ukraine is very important. We will elaborate on this below. But firstly, let us notice that quite interestingly, Macron did not mention Ukraine even once in the speech – a very long one – where he explained his roadmap for the EU presidency on December 9, 2021. He also did not touch the topic on his New Year speech.
France’ EU Presidency
Macron, who will hold the EU rotating presidency after 13 years, follows an ambitious agenda. Starting with the struggle against Covid-19 and promoting vaccination, the update of Schengen rules on immigration, the resolution of the refugee problems and better protection of the EU’s external borders are some of the items. He also aims to act independently from NATO and the USA in matters of defense, security and foreign policy.
For this goal, the Strategic Compass, which includes elements such as the rapid deployment force, will be brought to the agenda at the EU Leaders’ Summit to be held on 24-25 March 2022. Another point is to develop a plan to overcome the defeat that France suffered in recent years in Africa by joint action with other EU countries. A EU-Africa Summit is scheduled for February 17 – 18 February to serve this purpose.
Macron also aims to work on a “New European Model” that emphasizes employment, the fight against unemployment and promotion of social solidarity. The French President labels this as a “Model of Production”, and wants to use it against the increase in public debts of EU countries and the rising inflation, in short the economic crisis. A summit will be held in Paris on 10-11 March on this issue. The EU countries import 90 percent of their natural gas needs and are expected to develop a joint position on matters of energy security on this summit.
Both German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock have made statements that indicate full support to France during the presidency. Baerbock said that Germany and France, “as two very close friends at the heart of Europe bear a special responsibility for a European Union united and focused on the future.”
Macron is aiming to the EU’s leadership
The elections are just 100 days ahead, but Macron has still not announced his candidacy. In the 2017 elections, Macron had constructed his election program along a European axis. It looks like he will lead a campaign again focused on the European axis in these elections.
The EU was steered by the German Chancellor Merkel, while she was in government in her country. Today, the public opinion hotly and frequently discusses who is going to fill the gap she left behind. It is clear that Macron has an advantage over current German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. The newly appointed Scholz is not well known either in Europe or internationally. For Macron on the contrary was a top topic in Europe during his last 5 years in office.
The Ukrainian crisis and the EU’s dilemma
The EU presidency strengthens Macron’s hand, but it is clear that rivals will challenge him in these elections. We will discuss Macron’s electoral chances and his opponents in another article.
Today, the Ukraine issue is the most important problem of the EU. The U.S. is the troublemaker, trying to extend its sphere of influence to the border of Russia with the help of NATO, arming and provoking Ukraine. Washington also wants to include the EU into its politics of aggression by pressuring Brussels.
There is no unity among the EU countries concerning the relations with the U.S. and Ukraine. Many Eastern European countries, especially Poland and the Baltic states, are equipped with a large number of nuclear missiles targeting Russia. But the two countries that determine the fate of Europe are France and Germany. When meeting in Paris, Olaf Scholz and Emmanuel Macron announced their willingness to continue the Franco-German mediation in the Ukraine crisis. It is clear that they do not want a war in Europe. Although they have been imposing sanctions and threatening Russia from time to time on Ukraine since 2014, the main position is that the problem should be solved through dialogue and not militarily.
Especially Germany has important trade relations with Russia. It is dependent on Russia for natural gas. There is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany, which has cost billions and is ready to operate. The German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock insists on the need for dialogue with Moscow: “If we set out all our options for action, then we have a long list. However, our priority now is to prevent further escalation. That can only be achieved through diplomacy in the Normandy format (established in 2014 between France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia and excluding the U.S.) as well as through the NATO-Russia Council and within the framework of the OSCE,” she said.