OPINION

Can Macron Revive Idea of Europe?

The first round of the 2017 French presidential election has brought with it surprises and hopes.

France will go to the second round of elections where the candidates of the main political parties from the right and the left will not be competing for the first time in the last 60 years.

And it will probably have for the first time a young president, who has never held elected office and who does not have an organized political base.

How has 39-year-old Emmanuel Macron — who does not have a serious political career aside from his short-time duties as minister of economy and the president’s adviser on economic affairs — risen to the position of being the closest candidate to the French presidency in a matter of one year through his centrist En Marche! (On the Move) movement, of which he is also the founder?

To find the answer to this question, rather than analyzing Macron’s political promises, which are considered a fresh glimmer of hope for French society and European politics, it would be wise have a look at the traditional dynamics of French politics and history as well as the social structure of the country, the factors that have enabled such a candidate to emerge in such a short time span.

Although it is generally the graduates of the National School of Administration (Ecole Nationale d’Administration/ENA) — established in 1945 to train high-ranking state officials for France – who hold critical positions in French politics, when Macron’s ‘short background’ is considered given his age, it would not be wrong to say that the path that he has taken so far – from being an adviser to Hollande to holding a ministerial seat in Hollande’s government and later his resignation and founding his own political movement – can only be the result of the French political system based on the equality of opportunity and competence.

Another important driving force behind Macron’s rapid rise is that the people and especially the young and middle-aged French now see that the center-right and center-left in the country have been “clogged” and mired in a vicious cycle of repeating itself. Therefore, the people must have concluded that the dilemmas in traditional French politics could only be overcome through a new “middle way politics”, a method that can integrate rightist and leftist politics in a way that would constitute an alternative to France’s old political ways.

The rise in the ultranationalist and racist rhetoric of Marine Le Pen’s National Front and the need to put a brake on this trend may also be seen as another reason why those French people seeking a fresh blood in French politics are supporting Macron.

European politics and international order with Macron?

If we think that France would have an international agenda with a pragmatic approach far from extreme kinds of populism under the likely presidency of the young Macron, who is an alternative product of the deadlock of the French political and social structure, then a likely Macron leadership could turn into a positive transformation move not only for the current monotony of French politics but also for European politics and the liberal international order, which are now mostly defined by polarization.

This wave of dynamism that the “Macron wind” might generate might as well bring an important development in practical terms, more than just acting as a source of inspiration to European peoples, who have been on the lookout for alternatives from amongst a bunch of populist leaders.

The most important implication of this practical development is the re-emergence of the idea of European integration that would come back to life and gain momentum under the leadership of France with Macron as president.

We can argue that Macron, who maintains that his movement incorporates the best parts of the left, the right and the center just as De Gaulle’s movement once did, may attempt to shoulder a responsibility for the integrative future of European politics following the example of De Gaulle.

And in such a cause, his closest partner could be Germany. In this regard, in order to reinvigorate the belief in the idea of Europe, the prospect of a joint initiative by Macron and Merkel is quite likely to give a new impulse to EU politics, which has been in a systemic crisis.

Macron’s pro-business world stance, underlying his political program shaped by his background in investment banking, constitutes another pragmatic factor for the future of European integration, which has economically drifted toward greater division and been steeped in major uncertainties since Brexit became a reality.

Promising to introduce greater ease and convenience to the French taxation system — which is “very strict” to say the least — this stance seems to have a potential for creating advantages not only for politicians and societies but also for European investors who are in despair.

It is also possible to interpret this stance not as an optimistic attitude to save the future of the EU but rather as a step to breathe new life into the French economy itself, which has been adversely affected by the euro crisis.

Under a likely Macron presidency, France would be very significant for the revivification of the faith in the EU as well as the liberal international order, which is plunging ever deeper into its current crisis. So much so that the French president may walk strongly and decisively alongside Germany, which has allegedly been left on its own to advocate the liberal order, particularly given the negative and uncertain attitudes of the U.S. under Trump’s presidency toward global governance.

We might at this point recall that Marine Le Pen had described her struggle against Macron in her presidential campaign as “a patriotic struggle against the globalists.”

Another strikingly significant point in this regard is the fact that the traditional European politics based on a separation between the right and the left has now been replaced by the struggle between the globalists and localists/nationalists, as is often mentioned by various experts from time to time.

In an era marked by a dwindling faith in international organizations, such as the United Nations, G20 and the like, it seems likely that France under a Macron presidency would make global governance a priority in European politics again.

Besides his vision of defending the global liberal order, we can argue that Macron is also projecting a leadership role for France. In his vision, that future will be that of the liberal order. Macron positions France as a new center and strategically targets the Trump administration as part of this vision.

As an example, we can present Macron’s statement that France may become a new home to scientists, entrepreneurs and researchers instead of the U.S., which has been drifting with the wind of populism under Trump’s leadership.

Another important point in terms of the role France may play under a Macron presidency for the future of the liberal international order pertains to Macron’s attitude towards Russia. Unlike Le Pen, who advocates the lifting of the sanctions on Russia, Macron opines that these sanctions should continue to be in force for the time being.

Macron’s stance against Russia, in a way, proves the idea that Russia has been supporting the populist-nationalist movements in Europe against the liberal internationalists, a claim frequently voiced in recent times.

The biggest obstacle to a likely Macron presidency, which is already causing such a positive wind to blow in terms of European politics and the liberal international order, will undoubtedly be the balances in the French national assembly.

What might make this positive vision a reality would be a victory by the En Marche movement of Macron in the parliamentary elections in June despite lacking an organized political infrastructure.

Likely implications of a Macron win in Mideast and Turkey

What would a likely Macron presidency mean for regional politics and particularly Turkey-France relations now that this likelihood has already emerged as a glimmer of hope for the healthy functioning of the liberal international order and European politics, where nationalistic tendencies have been on the rise as mentioned above?

A likely Macron presidency, with its pragmatic middle-of-the-road approach of unifying central right and socialist policies, is expected to give impetus to European politics and, by extension, to global politics in the shade of rising extreme nationalism, xenophobia and steadily dwindling European economies as well as growth and employment-related issues.

However, despite these positive expectations regarding Europe, it is not possible to predict that a Macron presidency would effect a major change in the Middle East and France-Turkey politics in the short run.

We can suggest that Macron would continue the low-profile regional politics of his predecessors given that almost all of the socialist-leftist French political traditions that have held elected office, from Francois Mitterrand to Francois Hollande, eschewed interventionist policies in regard to the Middle East and followed a more balanced attitude.

Additionally, it is a reality that Macron’s political program envisages an increase in defense spending. The main reason for this, however, should be sought in the domestic political balances of France, which has been confronted with terrorism in recent years. Not in a proactive Middle East policy.

It is difficult to say that Macron, if elected, would act contrary to the Hollande government, which has been following a low-profile and passive foreign policy regarding Syria and the wider Middle East.

On the contrary, as he underscored during his election campaign, Macron would probably prioritize the domestic political problems of France and particularly those issues plaguing the economy.

We can predict that his foreign policy priority would be to try and make France the leading state of Europe again following a Eurocentric integrationist approach. Accordingly, it would not be wrong to argue that a foreign policy approach that would unify France’s national interests with a globalist vision would help France assume pioneering and initiative-taking roles in international organizations again.

Considering that Macron would not take backward steps on issues such as human rights, the rights of the minorities, immigrants and workers, democratic freedoms, social rights, equality of opportunities and justice, which French socialists also commonly prioritize, a Macron presidency would probably stick to the standoffish and cautious approach of the previous socialist governments to Turkey.

Having had serious problems with the socialist Mitterrand government in the past with regard to the Kurdish issue in particular, Turkey did not face a similar attitude from the Hollande government, which chose not to centralize the Kurdish issue and its resolution in bilateral relations.

Observing that Macron, who blends the central right’s rhetoric with the socialist tradition, would not be carried to extremes in his Turkey policies and would carry on with the same cautious and critical policy, we can argue that the new French president would likely follow a common attitude and policy with German Chancellor Angela Merkel regarding Turkey’s EU candidacy, the issue of refugees, and the readmission and visa exemption agreement on the table.

Finally, a likely Macron presidency has a great potential for serving the ideal of making Europe great again. Even though France’s comeback to the European scene and the occurrence of this through pro-European and internationalist policies and not through isolationist and protectionist policies are yet mere possibilities, it seems that these very possibilities, in Europe as well as its near and distant neighbors alike, will be enough to reverse, albeit temporarily, the populist-ultranationalist winds, which have been picking up speed across the globe.

This article was originally published on Anatolian Agency. Read the original article.

Emel Parlar Dal

Emel Parlar Dal is Associate Professor at Marmara University’s Department of International Relations. She received her MA and PhD degrees respectively from Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne and Paris 3 Nouvelle Sorbonne universities. During 2010-11, thanks to a Swiss government scholar ship, she conducted research at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. In 2013 she was an academic visitor at St. Anthony’s College Middle East Centre, Oxford University. Her articles have covered, inter alia, Turkish foreign policy, Turkey as an emerging power, Turkey’s global governance policies compared with those of the BRICS, Turkey-Middle East relations and Turkey’s development cooperation policies in Africa compared with China’s. Her recent publications have appeared in Third World Quarterly, Turkish Studies, International Journal and Perceptions. Currently she works as the coordinator of a TUBITAK-SOBAG research project on the contribution of Turkey and the BRICS to global governance. Emel Parlar Dal is now editing a special issue on MIKTA as a guest editor with Professor Andrew Cooper from University of Waterloo and the issue would be published by International Journal: Canada’s Journal of Global Policy Analysis.

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