by Francois Valentin
Friday, 22
April 2022
Behind the news
07:00

Emmanuel Macron’s pique at Boris’s Ukraine trip

The French President is jealous of the praise the PM is receiving from Zelenskyy
by Francois Valentin
Credit: Getty

Le Canard Enchaîné, France’s famous satirical and current affairs news magazine, reports that Boris Johnson’s trip to Kiev ruffled a few feathers in the Elysée palace in Paris. According to the Canard, Emmanuel Macron saw Johnson’s capacity to capture the limelight as “irritating,” despite Johnson “having not done much in Ukraine.” For Macron, “Johnson is doing Johnson populism!”

The French president had personal reasons to be frustrated at Johnson’s surprise trip — which saw the British prime minister warmly welcomed by Ukrainian officials and civilians — as he was himself on the verge of a similar diplomatic visit to Kiev. With Johnson taking the wind out of his sails, Macron, currently President of the Council of the European Union, called off the trip which would likely have paid off domestically in his runoff against Marine Le Pen.

But more generally, Macron’s irritation reflects his inability to gain much political capital over the war in Ukraine. His long-established stance on the need for Europe to become a strategically autonomous actor on its own right could have been an effective pitch, but instead it seems the once-derided “Global Britain” has taken poll position, with its well-publicised delivery of weapons and its firm political support for Ukraine.

While Zelenskyy praised Johnson for his activism and support, even arguing he would “go down in history forever,” relations with Macron have been cooler. When asked whether Russia had organised a “genocide” in Ukraine, Johnson commented that the killings in Bucha “don’t look far short of a genocide”. The French president, meanwhile, shied away from using the term, arguing that “the word has a meaning that needs to be characterised legally, not by politicians.”

The Ukrainian President described Macron’s comments as “very painful,” and had previously argued that France, unlike Britain, was not providing Ukraine with sufficient support out of “fear of Russia.” When asked if Johnson had done more than Macron, the Zelenskyy made clear that Johnson was the “leader who is helping more.” But in a rare win for Macron, Zelenskyy also weighed in on the ongoing presidential election, saying that he had built a “tie with Macron that he wouldn’t want to lose”. Still, this was hardly the most emphatic endorsement.

Macron’s image in Ukraine seems similarly tainted. In the weeks that preceded the invasion, he went on ultimately futile long calls and meetings with Vladimir Putin to avoid a military escalation. His unsuccessful diplomatic efforts got him an entry in Ukrainian slang with the verb “Macroner,” which translates into “appearing to be worried by a situation but to do nothing.” Macron’s now infamous late-night meeting pictures in a sweatshirt in an apparent attempt to imitate Zelenskyy’s style were similarly derided.

This is not to say France has stayed on the sidelines. Paris, which traditionally tends to hide its delivery of military equipment, has tried to publicise its own efforts, with the defense ministry even publishing a communiqué listing various equipment they have provided, including weapons systems and ammunition. France can even boast having been the first provider of military equipment to Ukraine between 2014 and 2020. But when it comes to reaping the political benefits of the moment it seems that Johnson has outplayed the French president.

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A Spetzari
A Spetzari
5 months ago

“irritating,” despite Johnson “having not done much in Ukraine.”

This line says a lot about how the two countries have approached this. Whilst I do not doubt that Johnson’s visit was in part a PR show, the UK has had a far more consistent policy of support to Ukraine that goes back to 2014 and before – i.e. pre-Johnson and Macron.
That Macron sees it as Johnson vs himself says a lot. Macron has been trying damn hard to be Europe’s premier statesman – not surprising with elections looming. But it’s not just about the two leaders, and Macron doesn’t seem to realise that the UK didn’t start getting involved in February.
The UK has seen its longer term investment in equipment and direct training support to Ukraine pay dividends. Boris’ foray into statesmanship has therefore completely one-upped Macron’s more flowery high profile musings on the matter. Johnson had the benefit of his words and actions being backed up by real long term policy decisions. France by contrast has done relatively little real work

Last edited 5 months ago by A Spetzari
John Shone
John Shone
5 months ago

France should be ashamed, not jealous…if I may project the feelings of Macron onto the entire nation…for two reasons:
1. To lead Europe, France must do things that other nations will follow. In the case of Ukraine, a robust response by France – a nuclear power – might have deterred Putin. When phone calls didn’t work, there was no Clauswitzian Plan B.
2. France owes Liberty a huge debt, which it has yet to repay. This was the moment to repay it. The British (Empire) saved France in WW I by fighting on Belgian and French soil. In WW II the English speaking people liberated France. Why are the French not holding the line somewhere in Ukraine? Was Hitler satisfied reoccupying The Rhineland?

AC Harper
AC Harper
5 months ago

Boris shambles, Macron flounces?

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
5 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

On the subject of which, I just came back from visiting York, where the actual Shambles provide a lovely example of a near-perfect medieval streetscape. Well worth a visit on a sunny spring day.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
4 months ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

My lovely hometown is well worth a visit on any day of the week and in any weather.

Tom Scott
Tom Scott
5 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Is this supposed to mean something?

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
5 months ago

But France armaments industry is supplying into Ukraine – on Russian tanks; see
French shipments of military equipment to Russia despite EU embargo and the violation of rule of law principles (europa.eu)
http://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/P-9-2022-001087_EN.html

Last edited 5 months ago by Colin Elliott
Kerry Davie
Kerry Davie
5 months ago

A very telling picture.