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Is France using Ukraine’s Nato bid to seize EU supremacy?

Who will be the new King of Europe? Credit: Getty

June 2, 2023 - 7:00am

The longer Russia’s invasion drags on, the more obvious it becomes that the international powers involved are pursuing interests other than the protection of Ukraine. In the United States, for example, the upcoming Republican primaries are set to turn an international crisis into part of the American culture wars. Every contender for the GOP nomination will have to be extremely careful not to appear supportive of yet another foreign war after the painful memories of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Similar forces are at play within the EU. It has been an open secret since French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to China earlier this year that Paris wants to increase its global influence, ideally through becoming the dominant nation within the EU. This role, traditionally played by Germany as the economically strongest and most populous member state, has come under significant pressure, and Macron seems determined to take advantage of the vacuum. Top of the agenda, currently, is Ukraine’s Nato ambitions.

When in 2008 Washington wanted to grant Ukraine a “membership action plan” to join Nato, it was blocked by Germany — and France — very much to the frustration of other Central European nations like Poland. Now Paris is changing its tune, and just a day ago Macron announced that there needs to be a “path towards membership”. This sudden position is, really, no more than a political calculation. France cannot dethrone Germany without support from Eastern Europe, and many there have not forgotten that Macron called Nato “brain-dead” in 2019. Nor will they have forgotten his multiple phone calls with Vladimir Putin, which caused widespread suspicion about the French commitment to Kyiv’s independence and a unified European position. 

The French President was obviously aware of that, because he went to great lengths to emphasise that there should be no division into “old Europe” and “new Europe”, a clear attempt to gain points with fiercely pro-Nato members like Poland and Slovakia. Yet Macron could not resist also calling for an end of the arms race in the Ukraine war, as well as stressing that a lasting security structure in the East will have to engage Russia.

The Franco-German dispute goes further than division over Ukraine’s place in the international community. Despite being one of the world’s major producers of nuclear power, in recent history French presidents have usually signed up to Germany’s fixation on renewables and the phasing out of nuclear energy. Not anymore, though. In recent months Paris has put together an alliance of pro-nuclear nations that are directly challenging Berlin, pushing France as Europe’s main energy provider-in-waiting. 

Similarly, the European reaction to America’s Inflation Reduction Act reflects a new confidence among French policymakers, openly promoting their domestic economic approach of subsidies and state intervention as the future model for the entire EU. While France always perceived itself as more than a junior partner to Germany and continued an active foreign policy without much consultation in Africa and the Pacific, there was a quiet acceptance that on issues affecting Europe, the leadership role would be fulfilled by Berlin. 

Empowered by its deep pockets, Germany framed all the major policy decisions, from the Balkans to the Great Recession of 2010 and even European dealings with Russia. One should not imagine that Moscow tried to woo German politicians like ex-chancellor Gerhard Schroeder due to sentimentality. Rather, Putin knew very well that influencing German foreign policy meant influencing EU foreign policy. The Nord Stream pipelines, more than being a bilateral German-Russian agreement, were designed to create conditions that would make Germany reluctant to take the EU in an anti-Russian direction. 

It is unlikely that Ukraine will become a Nato or EU member in the foreseeable future, especially given Germany’s continued resistance, but this makes it even easier for France to take positions that could seize diplomatic capital among EU member states without having actual consequences. It also demonstrates that for Paris, the main competitor is not Moscow or Beijing, but Berlin.

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Marcus Leach
Marcus Leach
1 year ago

The EU is only heading one way: right.
Member states are falling one by one to right-wing government, and will continue to do so as long as the EU fails to control its borders, flooding Europe with people from entirely incompatible cultures, and so long as it continues with the absurd folly of net zero. Europeans are not going to stand for the destruction of their culture, ethnic replacement, deindustrialisation and impoverishment.
The arrogant EU will keep ploughing on with these disastrous policies until the electoral reality forces a regime change.
I wouldn’t concern oneself with Macron; he is not long for power and France may well be the next member state to fall to those who reject “the Projects” ruinous course.

Last edited 1 year ago by Marcus Leach
Marcus Leach
Marcus Leach
1 year ago

The EU is only heading one way: right.
Member states are falling one by one to right-wing government, and will continue to do so as long as the EU fails to control its borders, flooding Europe with people from entirely incompatible cultures, and so long as it continues with the absurd folly of net zero. Europeans are not going to stand for the destruction of their culture, ethnic replacement, deindustrialisation and impoverishment.
The arrogant EU will keep ploughing on with these disastrous policies until the electoral reality forces a regime change.
I wouldn’t concern oneself with Macron; he is not long for power and France may well be the next member state to fall to those who reject “the Projects” ruinous course.

Last edited 1 year ago by Marcus Leach
Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 year ago

“…may have an ulterior motive”? Please. Don’t be so coy! EVERYTHING Macron does has an ulterior motive.
Even though Macron’s (bright and less bright) ideas might be (more or less) appreciated, I cannot believe there is any appetite whatsoever among the other 26 member states to be mere ballast for French global ambition.
I mean, he’s managed to fall out with almost everyone in some way. The German-speaking media always manages to put a positive spin on things because he’s pro-EU but look at the last few years. Franco-German relations have been strained – even Merkel was annoyed with Macron’s behaviour. Macron fell out with Poland’s PM (I seem to remember EM calling Morawiecki an anti-semite, which is absolutely charming). Macron has had spats with Italy under two governments. And that’s before we get into Anglo-French relations.
Let’s play a game of “spot the common denominator”, shall we?

Last edited 1 year ago by Katharine Eyre
polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Agreed, but to be fair to him everyone has an ulterior motive. The real problem is the fantasy, common amongst supporters of the EU, that there can be some common motive. There can’t.

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Agreed, but to be fair to him everyone has an ulterior motive. The real problem is the fantasy, common amongst supporters of the EU, that there can be some common motive. There can’t.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 year ago

“…may have an ulterior motive”? Please. Don’t be so coy! EVERYTHING Macron does has an ulterior motive.
Even though Macron’s (bright and less bright) ideas might be (more or less) appreciated, I cannot believe there is any appetite whatsoever among the other 26 member states to be mere ballast for French global ambition.
I mean, he’s managed to fall out with almost everyone in some way. The German-speaking media always manages to put a positive spin on things because he’s pro-EU but look at the last few years. Franco-German relations have been strained – even Merkel was annoyed with Macron’s behaviour. Macron fell out with Poland’s PM (I seem to remember EM calling Morawiecki an anti-semite, which is absolutely charming). Macron has had spats with Italy under two governments. And that’s before we get into Anglo-French relations.
Let’s play a game of “spot the common denominator”, shall we?

Last edited 1 year ago by Katharine Eyre
Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago

“France cannot dethrone Germany without support from Eastern Europe, and many there have not forgotten that Macron called Nato “brain-dead” in 2019.”
So Macron’s plan’s a non-starter then. No one in Eastern Europe’s going to trust him.

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago

“France cannot dethrone Germany without support from Eastern Europe, and many there have not forgotten that Macron called Nato “brain-dead” in 2019.”
So Macron’s plan’s a non-starter then. No one in Eastern Europe’s going to trust him.

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
1 year ago

The main problem with this assessment is that Germany won’t let France assume control of anything. There have been numerous French humiliations in recent years – Francafrique, AUKUS submarines, the infamous Putin calls which Macron cannot really come back from and that is before even starting with the EU. I will always remember I was in Germany when a top position came up (I can’t remember which off the top of my head) and the tv presenters were laughing about whether it would go to the French candidate or the German – you can guess which got it. Even mediocre German ministers (Von der Leyen) get plum postings which Macron would very much like for himself one day. Who knows, maybe one day he will be promoted to the top of the Eurocracy? France is more likely to be left behind as the balance of european power swings eastwards with the leaving of the UK and the rise of Poland and Mitteleurope. I listened to Peter Zahan trying to convince his interviewer that France would be the European leader of the future. Maybe he will be right but at the moment France is going in the opposite direction.

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
1 year ago

The main problem with this assessment is that Germany won’t let France assume control of anything. There have been numerous French humiliations in recent years – Francafrique, AUKUS submarines, the infamous Putin calls which Macron cannot really come back from and that is before even starting with the EU. I will always remember I was in Germany when a top position came up (I can’t remember which off the top of my head) and the tv presenters were laughing about whether it would go to the French candidate or the German – you can guess which got it. Even mediocre German ministers (Von der Leyen) get plum postings which Macron would very much like for himself one day. Who knows, maybe one day he will be promoted to the top of the Eurocracy? France is more likely to be left behind as the balance of european power swings eastwards with the leaving of the UK and the rise of Poland and Mitteleurope. I listened to Peter Zahan trying to convince his interviewer that France would be the European leader of the future. Maybe he will be right but at the moment France is going in the opposite direction.

j watson
j watson
1 year ago

Isn’t it more likely that most of Europe will support NATO accession pathway if it brings peace and stability sooner? There is a trade-off here that may be emerging.
And maybe even Putin will accept (albeit not publicly) if it leaves him with something in east Ukraine?
Given UK been one of strongest supporters of Ukraine that also likely enhances our position. It’ll not just be Macron making calculations.

Marcus Leach
Marcus Leach
1 year ago
Reply to  j watson

I do not wish for Britain and our armed forces to be obliged to fight for Ukraine. The fate of Ukraine does not pose a threat to British national security.
Rather than peace and stabilty, it occurs to me that the greater likelihood would be for Russia to react to the threat of having of NATO on its border by making use of tactical nuclear weapons to destroy large swathes of Ukraine.

Marcus Leach
Marcus Leach
1 year ago
Reply to  j watson

I do not wish for Britain and our armed forces to be obliged to fight for Ukraine.
Rather than peace and stabilty, it occurs to me that the greater likelihood would be for Russia to react to the threat of having of NATO on its border by making use of tactical nuclear weapons.

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
1 year ago
Reply to  Marcus Leach

Why all the downvotes? Do people want to die in a nuclear armageddon for the cause of Ukrainian freedom? Let the russkies get to the channel and then I might take note. Currently they can’t take half of Ukraine.

Last edited 1 year ago by Milton Gibbon
Emil Castelli
Emil Castelli
1 year ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

They were out bashing the pots together and clapping like demented things on Thursdays for the NHS and Lockdowns, and their own destruction – because the Media told them to.

Now the Media told them to wave the blue and yellow – so they are waving it like loons, although it destroys Europe, their pensions, their savings, their future…

They are just sheep doing as told….

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
1 year ago
Reply to  Emil Castelli

“I am a good person who supports the current thing.”

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
1 year ago
Reply to  Emil Castelli

“I am a good person who supports the current thing.”

Emil Castelli
Emil Castelli
1 year ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

They were out bashing the pots together and clapping like demented things on Thursdays for the NHS and Lockdowns, and their own destruction – because the Media told them to.

Now the Media told them to wave the blue and yellow – so they are waving it like loons, although it destroys Europe, their pensions, their savings, their future…

They are just sheep doing as told….

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
1 year ago
Reply to  Marcus Leach

Why all the downvotes? Do people want to die in a nuclear armageddon for the cause of Ukrainian freedom? Let the russkies get to the channel and then I might take note. Currently they can’t take half of Ukraine.

Last edited 1 year ago by Milton Gibbon
Marcus Leach
Marcus Leach
1 year ago
Reply to  j watson

I do not wish for Britain and our armed forces to be obliged to fight for Ukraine. The fate of Ukraine does not pose a threat to British national security.
Rather than peace and stabilty, it occurs to me that the greater likelihood would be for Russia to react to the threat of having of NATO on its border by making use of tactical nuclear weapons to destroy large swathes of Ukraine.

Marcus Leach
Marcus Leach
1 year ago
Reply to  j watson

I do not wish for Britain and our armed forces to be obliged to fight for Ukraine.
Rather than peace and stabilty, it occurs to me that the greater likelihood would be for Russia to react to the threat of having of NATO on its border by making use of tactical nuclear weapons.

j watson
j watson
1 year ago

Isn’t it more likely that most of Europe will support NATO accession pathway if it brings peace and stability sooner? There is a trade-off here that may be emerging.
And maybe even Putin will accept (albeit not publicly) if it leaves him with something in east Ukraine?
Given UK been one of strongest supporters of Ukraine that also likely enhances our position. It’ll not just be Macron making calculations.