The French leader has a bleak vision of the time ahead
Yesterday Emmanuel Macron issued the most apocalyptic warning any European leader has given in recent memory. As the conflict in Ukraine drags on, he declared that Europeans are about to live through a moment of “great upheaval” that may signal “the end of abundance”.
What is behind such stark language? For one thing, the President badly misjudged his role as peacemaker prior to the invasion of Ukraine, and is now attempting to regain sober credibility as a statesman on the world stage. He is explicitly positing coming sacrifices as necessary, undertaken in the name of Ukrainian freedom.
Recent demographic shifts in France have led to conflicts over what French values should be, and the president is seeking to re-emphasise liberté, egalité, and fraternité as intrinsically French principles.
French workers will also seek to strike over the winter. Macron is pre-emptively attempting to label them as unpatriotic whilst simultaneously steeling his countrymen to accept sacrifices for what may come to be an increasingly unpopular strategy.
There is a powerful contrast here with Britain. Frontline politicians have shied away from Macron-style warnings. Boris Johnson, attempting to cement the most successful diplomatic policies of his premiership, has insisted that Britain must “stay the course” on Ukraine. While British household costs will rise, “the people of Ukraine are paying in their blood.”
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace acknowledged that Putin will use Russia’s natural resources as a leverage in order to drive up energy prices and punish the West. “That’s why Putin must fail,” he added. But Wallace’s words were fundamentally empty: he knows, as well as anyone does, that Britain can provide no immediate answer for how Putin might fail.
Britain can rest assured that its actions will place it “on the right side of history”, but it has no coherent strategy to exit this crisis. Johnson has disappeared into a haze of holidays; Sunak and Truss have simply promised to “call Putin out”. Their references to the coming winter fuel crisis are oblique, with few explicit links made to Ukraine.
America’s independent energy sources will mean it is relatively well-protected from the disaster that awaits its Western European allies, who have failed time and time again to protect against supply-side shocks. Instead they prioritised ‘green’ policies, or failed to build nuclear power plants a decade ago under the justification that they would only become functional in 2021.
Unlike Americans, Western Europeans will, in Macron’s words, “have to accept the price of liberty”. These heavy costs — economic turmoil and electricity blackouts — will have to be justified rhetorically. Macron has made a head-start on his British counterparts. When the crunch really begins in months to come we will see if it makes any difference to his post-abundance citizenry.