French President Emmanuel Macron, owing to the existing vacuum created by the departure of heavyweights like former German Chancellor Angela Merkel and ex-British Premier Boris Johnson, has suddenly amplified his efforts to carve a positioning for himself as the most influential European leader.
There is no doubt that, despite a few hiccups, he has been doing fairly well in attracting the global limelight. Particularly, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he has been spending more time in the global arena than paying attention to domestic politics where he is facing numerous challenges from his opponents as well as his coalition partners. Macron feels that the time is right for him to venture into this domain. If it is a peace settlement initiative in Ukraine, he will be seen spearheading the whole process. If the project to recap Iran’s nuclear program is negotiated, Macron is at the center of it, cajoling all the stakeholders to listen to him as well. If Washington needs support on its containment strategy against China, Macron is found advocating in favor of American belligerency to snub the expanding influence of Beijing in the Indo-Pacific region. If it is fast-tracked inclusion of Finland and Sweden into the folds of NATO, Macron is found actively persuading his fellow European Union leaders to bypass other formalities to let them in. And with the retirement of Merkel and Britain severing its umbilical cord – with the EU - after Brexit, Macron is now unquestionably the only prominent European leader and the biggest pro-EU campaigner who has the capability to find space in the headlines of the media.
On Dec. 1, Macron will be meeting U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House for the first full-scale state visit of his administration. Adorned with the traditional pomp and ceremony of state visits, Macron’s planned Washington “yatra,” which is a procession or pilgrimage, especially one with a religious purpose among Indo-Asian peoples, unlike the routine bilateral meetings hosted by the U.S. presidents for foreign leaders, will be the first of its kind during Biden’s presidency. This is certainly a massive diplomatic breakthrough for Emmanuel Macron. A major crisis hit the bilateral relations between Paris and Washington last year when Australia abruptly announced it was scrapping a contract to buy conventional French submarines in favor of a U.S. nuclear-powered submarine deal.
However, credit goes to Macron for managing the whole episode very diligently and converting it into an opportunity to become much closer to President Biden at a personal level. Contrary to the expectations of the analysts, who were quite disappointed with his rather low profile in his first term, Macron, in his second term, is suddenly depicting a remarkable transformation; from a backbencher to a front-row vanguard who does not want to waste a single chance to grab the spotlight in every hot spot across the globe.
Notwithstanding his dismal failure to dissuade Russian President Vladimir Putin from his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Macron is fast emerging as an increasingly weighty global leader. In addition to his sprouting assertiveness on the economic matters and internal decision-making apparatus of the EU, Macron’s newfound protuberance in the global arena can also be traced to his conscious efforts to bring a paradigm shift in France’s strategic intent as a major power allied to – but philosophically independent of – the U.S.
This is not a new element in France’s foreign policy. It is reminiscent of former French President Jacques Chirac who vehemently declined to support the U.S. intrusion in Iraq and refused to go along with the White House on this matter, which caused headaches for U.S. presidents before. But Macron, unlike atypical Chirac, is more pragmatic and accommodative. He is trying to use his personal alignment with President Joe Biden to obscure the footprints of Merkel in EU politics.
The problem with Macron is that he wants to present himself as an acceptable “bridging plank” between Russia and the West. He also knows well that the Ukraine imbroglio will be eventually resolved at the negotiating table, but he wants the chief mediator's chair at that table. Just like Merkel, he also has fantastic proficiency to communicate in English – an important vehicle to support his aspirations for a global leadership role. His expertise in English communication gives him added benefits, compared to the majority of his colleagues in the EU, to become closer to the White House as well as nurture his image as a “global” leader.
However, in stark contrast to his overweening ambitions to establish his personal positioning as a global leader, a kind of aloofness has tightly wrapped around his personality when it comes to taking initiatives in the global arena. This might be associated with a discreet "selfishness" of his inner personality, this “going-alone” style of maneuvering is inversely hurting his efforts for a global role. Unilateralism or self-projection is the key factor that has been responsible for his failure so far in carving the “desired role” for himself in the EU internal establishment.
There is a long list of his botched attempts to win the support of other EU leaders in the last four years for his long string of pro-Europe initiatives. This is the one gray area where he needs to work seriously hard to find the desired notch for himself in the coming days.