France’s president has proven himself to be a well-oiled weathervane. What he says on Monday may not match what he says or does on Wednesday. But his remarks while visiting China are interesting in several ways.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, 2018. (NATO)

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

Emmanuel Macron got poor reviews in major media, and from a few notably stupid European leaders, on his return last week from his three-day summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping. But are we going to content ourselves with reviews of the French president’s performance or consider the play? What do critics know, after all?

I do not see that Macron’s high-profile, photo-opportunistic travels to Beijing and southern China were entirely a waste of jet fuel. Crawling cautiously out on a shaky limb, I’ll go so far as to suggest his unusually extended talks with Xi were net-positive.

And I’m taking into account the presence of the useless Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Commission, who tagged along to get her ticket punched: European neoconservatives can call Xi all the names they want, but an encounter with the dictatorial, authoritarian, tyrannical, horrible-horrible Chinese leader seems to count as a notch on the holsters of Sinophobes such as von der Leyen.

Whatever else he is, Macron is neither a Sinophobe or a Russophobe. At times he betrays a touch of Gaullist Amerophobia, indeed. 

I have to say straightaway that Manny Macron seems to me a political bimbo in almost all respects. He has made a godawful mess at home by forcing into law a pension reform plan that has had millions of citoyens in the streets for months. But this is another conversation.

On the foreign side, Macron has proven a well-oiled weathervane, and thus a great disappointment over the years. What he says on Monday may not match what he says or does on Wednesday.

But what he has said on various Mondays during his presidency includes some very worthy ideas: NATO has lost its way, Europeans share a common destiny with Russia, Europe must reclaim its autonomy and take care of its security itself.

Macron, indeed, reminds me of Donald Trump on these matters. It is a comparison Macron would detest and Trump would not understand, but both are capable of articulating bold foreign policy initiatives while lacking the character to give them substance, win acceptance for them and put them into practice.

French President Emmanuel Macron, left, whispering to U.S. President Donald Trump during a G20 meeting in June 2019 in Osaka, Japan. (White House/Shealah Craighead)

The press and the trans–Atlantic political cliques ordinarily ignore Macron when he does his I’m-the-next-de-Gaulle act. But not this time. There is too much at stake between the West and China these days: Beijing’s leverage over Moscow, real or imagined, on the Ukraine question, Europe’s role as the U.S. foments a crisis over Taiwan, the independence or otherwise of Europe’s relations with China and the new world order Xi and his top foreign policy officials have declared as the mainland’s priority.

Macron fairly leapt into all this as soon as he disembarked in Beijing on April 6.  In his arrival speech at the Great Hall of the People, he appealed directly to Xi to exert his influence in Moscow. “I know I can count on you to bring Russia back to reason and everyone back to the negotiating table,” Macron said. The cause, he added, was “a durable peace that respects internationally recognized borders.”

These remarks are interesting in several ways.

A Suggestive Miscalculation

On one hand, Macron miscalculated. China has made it eminently clear that, if invited, it is willing to act as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine (and Kiev’s Western backers), but under no circumstance will it intervene into the sovereign affairs of the Russian Federation or any other nation. I wish Macron would spend more time doing his homework and less posing for historians and the sculptors of bronze busts.

On the other hand, the wording is subtly suggestive. “A durable peace” is one that would recognize Russia’s security concerns, which Washington and its pilot fish in Europe refuse to do. Respecting internationally recognized borders is a fine idea, all would agree, but Macron appeared to leave open what these would be when maps are drawn at the conclusion of negotiations.

And on the other hand — there are three in this case — Macron suggested quite openly that negotiating with Russia was as valid an undertaking as negotiating with China.

The French president’s “I know I can count on you” was wildly incautious: The Chinese leader was “inflexible in direct reply to French head of state,” as Le Monde put it. At the same time, Macron managed a nifty chime with Xi on the larger point. “Together with France, we appeal for restraint and reason,” Xi remarked during the Great Hall exchange, “in the quest for a political settlement and the building of a European security architecture that is balanced and lasting.”

A Side Trip

After extensive talks in Beijing, Xi took the unusual step of escorting Macron to Guangdong, the southern province where a lot of China’s manufacturing capacity is concentrated. There are a couple of things to say about this side trip, too. Three, actually.

One, Macron signaled his view that Europe’s relations with the People’s Republic should remain open and develop further on the economic side — an implicit rejection of Washington’s campaign to disrupt the extensive interdependence of economic ties between the West and China.

Two, we have to think about why Xi invested so much time in this encounter with the French leader. If I know Macron is an inconstant lightweight and you know the same, we can count on Xi understanding very well Macron’s character.

My reply: Xi’s intent was to demonstrate that Beijing remains open to developing a set of relations with Europe that amount to a common cause against America’s effort to line up the Atlantic world against China and, by implication, Russia. “Xi denounced ‘Cold War logic and the confrontation of blocs,” Le Monde’s correspondent, Claire Gatinous, reported from Beijing. Gatinous then quoted Xi saying, “China always considers Europe an independent pole in a multipolar world.”

Three, von der Leyen was not invited to Guangdong. Xi, we can confidently infer, wants to deal with European nations such as France and leaders such as Macron rather than the rigidly neoliberal European Union and ideologues such as the European Commission’s current president.

Show of European Autonomy

Whatever you may think of Macron, he went to Beijing to stand for an autonomous Europe that determines for itself its ties with the non–West’s premier power. It is net-positive, as I say. Europe’s relations with China continue to hang in the balance, and good enough for now.

Remember, Pedro Sanchez preceded Macron in Beijing for talks with Xi by a few days. It was a summit that drew much less attention, but the Spanish premier went out of his way to assert that Europeans should remain open to China’s recent emergence as a diplomatic power. 

Macron’s days in Beijing were never going to get him a good press on his return to Paris. But he guaranteed critical reviews when he gave a much-noted interview to Politico on his flight from Beijing to Guangzhou. Here was Macron in full Gaullist flower, holding forth on European independence, reducing Europe’s dependence on the dollar and the Continent as a “third superpower” in a multipolar world.

 “‘The great risk’ Europe faces,” Politico quoted Macron as saying, “is that it ‘gets caught up in crises that are not ours, which prevents it from building its strategic autonomy.’”  

Then this:

“The paradox would be that, overcome with panic, we believe we are just America’s followers. The question Europeans need to answer … is it in our interest to accelerate [a crisis] on Taiwan? No. The worse thing would be to think that we Europeans must become followers on this topic and take our cue from the U.S. agenda and a Chinese overreaction.”

“If the tensions between the two superpowers heat up,” Macron concluded, “we won’t have the time nor the resources to finance our strategic autonomy and we will become vassals.”

Shenzhen Railway Station, Guangzhou-Shenzhen Railway, China, 2018. (Baycrest/CC BY-SA 2.5, Wikimedia Commons)

Western officials of Macron’s rank are far better off trafficking in euphemisms and the mythologies of the West’s unassailable superiority when in public than they are speaking with this kind of raw honesty. So it proved for Macron as he returned to Élysée Palace.

Roger Cohen, The New York Times’ Paris bureau chief, published an analytic piece under the priceless headline, “From Red Carpet to Doghouse: Macon Returns from China to Allied Dismay.” Priceless in part because it’s a lousy head, but priceless mostly because it is, if you’ll forgive me, bullshit.

As I have been traveling in Europe these past few weeks, it is perfectly clear to me that public opinion on the Continent tilts heavily in favor of the kind of Europe for which Macron speaks. Cohen’s doghouse is in Washington, not in Europe. Correspondent Cohen, who enjoys a deservedly fine reputation, here notes Macron’s use of “multipolar,” “vassals,” “Cold War mentality” and other such terms as if they are shocking transgressions. This is what it takes to get sent to the imperium’s doghouses, I suppose. Pitiful.

On the topic of pitiful, I cannot conclude this thought without mentioning Liz Truss, Britain’s blink-and-you-missed-her prime minister for 44 days last year. Having withdrawn in apparent embarrassment after she was yanked off stage with a cane, Truss is now back to reprise her Margaret Thatcher imitation.

“It was a mistake for Western leaders to visit President Xi and ask him to intervene in seeking a resolution to the conflict in Ukraine,” Truss said last week at the Heritage Foundation, which seems one of the only places Truss is still taken seriously. “I believe that was a sign of weakness. It’s also why President Macron is wrong to suggest Taiwan is not of direct interest to Europe.”

Liz Truss. I mean, really. It comes to this. These are the kind and caliber of people who are leading us disturbingly in the direction of global conflict. 

I do not know what Macron intends to do with the worthy positions he articulated while in China talking to Xi and having a look at its industrial base. If the record is any guide, not much is our answer.

But I hope something.

It was a French anarchist in the 19th century who said, “To lead I had to follow.”  Forget that, Manny. Stay with your thinking on these questions, if it is your thinking.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, lecturer and author, most recently of  Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century. His new book Journalists and Their Shadows is forthcoming from Clarity Press. His Twitter account, @thefloutist, has been permanently censored. His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site.  His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

21 comments for “PATRICK LAWRENCE: Macron’s Europe

  1. Anon
    April 19, 2023 at 13:24

    Macron was the only EU leader to identify Russia,China and the USA as potential threats to the EU during the Trump administration. His latest comments reinforce this view that the EU must be independently secure . Great article and good insight.

  2. Tom
    April 18, 2023 at 20:06

    Wow, this has to be the only article that has judged Macron’s visit to China and his statements as positive. It is very refreshing because it is spot on. According to all other articles I have read, it is apparently inappropriate to state the long overdue obvious that Europe must finally grow out of being the lapdog of the US and finally develop its autonomy in all aspects. Serious discussions about this issue are discredited immediately as “going against the West and its mission in Ukraine” and, therefore most people are too coward to discuss it. Pitiful indeed. This article also shines a light on those that bully and discredit those that find Macron’s statements worthy of a serious discussion, including Liz Truss, the NYT and, shamefully, Ursula von der Leyen. However, I am not sure public opinion in Europe is indeed in favor of Macron’s autonomous Europe (yet), partly due to people’s fear of being discredited or shunned. It depends; they seem to be more in favor in Western Europe than in Central and certainly than in Eastern Europe. It seems that countries in Central/Eastern Europe would join the US as new states tomorrow, if they could.

  3. bardamu
    April 18, 2023 at 17:13

    Macron’s a snake, but a lack of full fealty to the American project is hardly a problem for anyone in France. People are on the streets because he’s stealing their retirement.

    Meanwhile, any talk about China or anyone “bring Russia to the table” is pretense, and we would best proceed to consider why the person in question should indulge in such pretense. Russia was at the table. Figuratively, Russia is at the table. Biden sent Boris Johnson to break off negotiations.

    Apparently the destruction of Ukraine and the destruction of Nordstream II and of German manufacturing are either acceptable losses or even goals.

    Why would we imagine that it were not the latter?

  4. Realist
    April 18, 2023 at 16:12

    Xi certainly knows what the score is and must be bemused by the delusions of grandeur that the French and especially the British still hang on to from their last days of empire back in the 1940’s. The Germans, in contrast, never forget their purposeful demeaning place in the Western pecking order. Even the Japanese are permitted to float speculations about acquiring more autonomy from the American hegemon, including developing their own nukes (which is an even worse idea than allowing Iran nukes). Well, that’s what losing a world war will get you, so we Yanks had better take a care that we just may get what we wish for if we keep provoking Russia and China, thinking that we hustlers could out-negotiate the Devil himself if it came to that.

    The only ones negotiating the world out of this mess will be Moscow talking some sense into Washington once the Pentagon is thoroughly check-mated on the battlefield. Even the designated cannon fodder Ukraine is only window dressing, not a mover and shaker. Certainly Macron will not be using China to get Washington’s way on anything. If he’s a good boy, the Chinese may allow some BRI ports on the French coasts.

    Lord Biden’s cabinet of Neo-con-artists and fools think they have uncovered an adolescent’s secret to success in foreign affairs: just make one outrageous boast after another and double the bet each time. It is sure to be a good laugh when they ultimately get taught their lesson and lose the pink slip and keys to the fancy ride they bought entirely on credit. Maybe Macron can serve one useful purpose if both American politicians and voters take note of how quickly the people can turn against leaders who put the interests of the public last, behind personal power and fortune. American workers might look sharp sporting yellow jackets in the turbulent streets, sort of like our indigenous subterranean stinging wasps.

  5. Feral Finster
    April 18, 2023 at 12:37

    What Macron did was a sop to protesters, who are understandably outraged that they must forego their retirement that they paid taxes for, but at the same time, their government lavishes money on Ukraine.

    So ignore what Macron says. Watch what he does, which is drop to his knees with a resounding thud, whenever the United States snaps its proverbial fingers.

    Of course, even that kind of subservience is not enough for the Empire. They demand submission in words as well as deeds. “I’m your little bitch, Daddy!”

    • Anon
      April 18, 2023 at 20:59

      Tnx Feral… Didn’t make the connection Macron basically Privatized Social Security… (by Fiat!)
      Hopefully NOT inspiration to (wanna say “Boy Barisma”… But WON’T)

  6. Vera Gottlieb
    April 18, 2023 at 11:41

    If the EU weren’t so far up the Yanx innards, oxygen would reach brains for a clearer thinking.

  7. Jim Kable
    April 18, 2023 at 10:34

    Excellent summation from “on the ground” of the state of Macron play vis-à-vis his visit to China – the Liz Truss look-alike/finger-point alike von der Leyen and so forth. And then squawks out of the US…More, please!

  8. Michael Kritschgau
    April 18, 2023 at 06:45

    Macron’s trip to China was a big, and I will quote Victoria Nuland here, “F@#k the E.U.”, but from a different angle.

  9. Jeff Harrison
    April 18, 2023 at 02:21

    I have to start this off by asking Patrick why he stuck Liz “The Bimbo” Truss into this. She sounds like republican. She thinks that conservative ideology is a good substitute for brains. It isn’t.

    I don’t think you give Xi enough credit for craft and guile. I think he has concluded that China is better off dealing with individual European nations than the imaginary European union. Hungary and Poland are already cracking the union by refusing the democratic grain from the Ukraine. And, as you point out, Señor Sanchez was there only a few days ago saying the same things that M. Macron has been saying. M. Macron is a make-weight but between him and Sanchez, they can up the headache level for the neo-liberal EU bureaucrats. So I suspect this of being a long term sabotage job by China. Not that I think that China has any nefarious motivations. I just don’t think that Mr. Xi has any interest in dealing with make-weights. Another light weight, Frau Baerbock spent her time in China sounding like Winkin, Bliken, and Nod. But the Chinese didn’t give her the W-B-N treatment. Interesting week.

    • L. C. Ng
      April 18, 2023 at 14:35

      Recent caved-ins by European leaders to US diktat over Ukraine-related issues tend to affect judgements about their character. For Macron especially, his apparent acceptance of the US/UK/Aussie backstabbing over the Australian submarine deal didn’t help either.

      Therefore it was not surprising that Macron would resort to some self-introspection over the blows he, his country, and Europe, sustained. And that he might conclude, as Patrick Lawrence put it, that “NATO has lost its way … Europeans share a common destiny with Russia … Europe must reclaim its autonomy and take care of its security itself.”

      It so happened that such thoughts paralleled Xi’s, hence Macron returned home doubly convinced that he (Macron) was right all along (and Xi appeared to the world as a masterful rhetorician!).

      De Gaulle himself was mercilessly insulted not only for removing France from NATO, but also for impeding the UK’s entrance into the Common Market. A British paper once attacked De Gaulle, ad hominem, that “he thinks France is Europe and he is France.”

      Such attacks didn’t move De Gaulle. Macron, “in Gaullist flower,” is unlikely to succumb to “bullshit.”

  10. Roger Hoffmann
    April 17, 2023 at 21:43

    A fine review / analysis, Patrick, as always. Thanks for writing it.

  11. Michael Scanlon
    April 17, 2023 at 20:07

    And remind me, what was so “net positive” about Macron’s trip?

    • Michael Kritschgau
      April 18, 2023 at 06:41

      A signal to China that European countries, independently, do not want estranged relations with China.
      As a European myself I do want positive relations with China this but if you are American, well, this trip was not positive at all.

      • Valerie
        April 18, 2023 at 16:19

        Even James Cleverly, the british foreign secretary showed support today for keeping relations with China.

  12. April 17, 2023 at 17:36

    Lawrence at his best, wicked tongue and wickedly good analysis!!!

  13. April 17, 2023 at 15:34

    Interesting article, meaningful analysis. Thank you!!!

  14. mary-lou
    April 17, 2023 at 15:33

    we don’t like Macron much but we detest Von der Leyen and her various European lapdogs. ordinary folks are suffering and we’re not being heard, save by some splintered national political parties here-and-there. TQ for this article.

  15. Caliman
    April 17, 2023 at 14:31

    One would think that at some point, there will be some European business leaders who will balk at beggaring their own nations at the behest of the “rules based” system benefiting Globocap. I’m looking at you German, Italian, Spanish, French, etc. real leaders of “old Europe” … are you going to stand up and be counted? Or will you continue to cash in your checks like good little satraps?

  16. shmutzoid
    April 17, 2023 at 14:24

    Macron’s signaling at least some openness to China is encouraging. These are times of global upheaval – turmoil will persist for some time before the outlines of a multi-polar world become more clear. ….Meanwhile, the old saw about NATO’s raison d’etre- keep Russia OUT, Europe DOWN and the US UP – should be more apparent than ever to all, especially in Europe. …….. Sabotaging the Nord Stream pipeline was an exclamation point to that idea. …….. It’s too bad Scholz/Germany isn’t making the same noises about China/US as is Macron.

    • eg
      April 18, 2023 at 14:15

      I think that was “the US in, Russia out, and Germany down,” no?

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