Radio Sputnik discussed this with Dr. Russell Foster from the Department of European & International Studies at King’s College London.
Dr Russell Foster: As a politician, Macron is certainly no stranger to a little bit of exaggeration for media effect. He doesn’t imply that there’s going to be any sort of fighting or combat in Europe; instead what he means is that Europe is quickly splitting into two different fractions. Those politicians in countries who are in favor of deeper European integration are led by France and Germany and those smaller European countries which are more hesitant about it. Europe is currently at the crossroads, it has been since the 2014 elections to the European Parliament, where we returned quite a Eurosceptic parliament. Europe is half formed, it’s halfway between a functioning state and an economic bloc and it’s got to go in one of two directions – either forward with more integration or backwards, back towards EEC. Macron knows this, he is pushing for more integration; other European leaders are pushing against this. So this is what he calls a civil war.
Sputnik: Now European MPs criticized Macron’s call for a democratic union, questioning a French president for undemocratically attacking Syria. There’s a paradox there. What are your thoughts on those questions from European MPs?
Dr Russell Foster: This is similar with what we’ve seen in Britain with criticism of Theresa May that she should have taken this to Parliament before engaging in airstrikes. It’s very difficult to reconcile humanitarian intervention with a democratic process; it’s especially difficult to do this in Europe in the aftermath of the War on Terror, the memories of Afghanistan and especially of Iraq in 2003 are still fresh in people’s minds. Macron, May and Trump are in a very difficult position whereby if they do engage and intervene in the Syrian civil war, then they are accused of some sort of colonial imperialism, and if they don’t engage in it, then they are accused of cold heart cynicism and not caring. It really doesn’t matter what Macron, May and Trump do or don’t do, they are going to be criticized by the European Parliament.
Sputnik: Now while President Macron’s been calling for more united and independent Europe, he's joined the US in the recent Syrian airstrikes, we’ve mentioned that, the interesting thing is that Germany withheld from any military support to this alliance. What does Macron really want for Europe?
Dr Russell Foster: It’s clear that the European Union can’t function the way it is. The second most powerful economy has voted to leave, there's still the possibility that Mediterranean countries like Greece, Italy and Spain, which have been hearted by migration and austerities, that they might question their membership and it’s also very clear that Europe is splitting into regions, so the Scandinavian bloc is forming. We’ve got the Visegrad group of Central European nations which is becoming more vocal, and now that the British are leaving there’s a lot of concern among smaller European nations that the Franco-German push for greater integration is going to accelerate. While the British were in the European Union, we were very good at holding back Paris’ and Berlin’s devise for deeper integration and this meant that smaller countries – the Dutch, the Slovenians, the Danes, they saw the British as a useful ally against the ambitions of the French and the Germans. Now that we are going, those smaller countries are concerned that they are going to be steamrolled by President Macron and his very clear agenda of deeper European integration. A new block is forming of smaller countries, it’s now being led by the Dutch under Prime Minister Mark Rutte, and they are very concerned about what they see as an undemocratic agenda from Macron who honestly believes that the best way to preserve Europe is to centralize even more power. Now on a technical note that does seem a good idea for Europe to function and to prosper in the 21st century it would need to have more centralized power. But, as I've seen in the last couple of years, European populations are very hostile to the idea of surrendering even more power to what they perhaps quite rightly see as undemocratic and unelected technocrats in Brussels. With the British leaving and with Macron now the dominant political force in Europe, he is trying to push the great integration, but the more he pushes the more that other European countries are pushing back against him.
Sputnik: One of the things that Macron is seeking is financial reforms in the bloc. How do you think they can impact French-German relations?
Dr Russell Foster: The British are about to leave; this is going to leave an enormous gap in the European budget. Now Macron had suggested that this can be made up for with increased taxes and an increased flow of money from member states into central European funds. He is very much in favor of this, Merkel and Schulz and their alliance is sympathetic to this, but they are being quiet about it because they know that the German people somewhat ambivalent about giving even more money to Brussels. And the smaller countries, led by the Dutch under Mark Rutte, they are pushing against this. So Rutte’s argument is the one that British leave, the European Union needs to lean down to cut a lot of its expenditure. Macron is saying that we need to tax more in order to make up the shortfall, the smaller countries are saying that no, we need to cut expenses and not tax more. He does want Europe to survive and he does want Europe to prosper, but he seems to be going about in, if you want, a rather ham-fisted way, ignoring the concerns of smaller European countries in order to promote his particular vision of reform. Europe needs enormous reforms or it’s going to break apart. We are currently in the eye of the storm, so Europe at the moment looks relatively peaceful, especially in the aftermath of the Eurozone crisis, the migration crisis, the situation in Ukraine. These things haven’t gone away, it can go to one of two directions – it can go backwards towards the EEC or it can go forwards to some sort of the European federal empire. Macron is pushing for one of those, the rest of Europe is pushing to go back.