When the EU can’t get any support itself democratically for a bold plan, it turns to member states to do its bidding for it. And there is no shortage of servile French leaders who are happy to capitalise on the situation.
In Paris on December the 7th, Parisians were phased by the motorcade and the middle-aged lady appearing from the limo. But Ursula von der Leyen’s arrival in the French capital, although a downbeat and certainly rare event, has significant overtures to both France’s role in international peacekeeping and Macron’s future as a second-term President who will lead the EU into a new dawn.
Both Macron and the EU chief spoke about the need for “dialogue” with Russia and the need for a new defence initiative which should be worrying NATO chiefs who are already grappling with the realities of being practically a defunct organisation entirely impotent in the face of the showdown with Russia over Ukraine.
EU chiefs don’t normally make visits to EU member state leaders. There is a time and place for that, which is Brussels itself and EU summits where photographers capture them making small talk in the EU Council of Ministers building. Von der Leyen’s visit to Paris and her joint podium scripted speech signal that, to some extent at least, Brussels is backing Macron with his initiative to lead some sort of defence pact, made up of a handful of EU member states in peacekeeping and at least talking tough on Russia and Ukraine. Of course, the idea that such a pact would actually do anything against Russia and its troops is entirely ludicrous and far-fetched and Macron talking (unscripted) about the need to “talk to Russia” is a lucid indication where he is going with his own EU army initiative. Clearly, the most realistic option of all the “EU army” ideas – which will cost the least and give the EU its own so-called “defence policy” – is the watered down idea, which simply involves an informal coalition of EU governments agreeing to be one, on defence policy on behalf of the EU. Given how the subject is so divisive, this group will not be run by Brussels, but led by one EU member state while its soldiers sport the EU armband. France is emerging as that country which will break the stalemate which has plagued EU federalists in Brussels as to how to move forward with the plan, which many in the Belgian capital have convinced themselves is the silver bullet to restore credibility to the EU project as it scrambles to survive from the ashes of failed Covid initiatives, twenty years of the single currency and an immigration policy which is failing on every level.
For Macron, it’s what will anoint him in his second term, putting France on the world stage as a leading nation of some kind as the “EU pillar” within NATO. The idea is pulled out of the windowless bunkers of the Elysee, dusted down and given a new lease of light. And it is Biden’s breathtaking impotence as a U.S. president who runs away from confrontation on the world stage, whether it be Ukraine and Russia or Afghanistan, the Middle East or elsewhere, which is driving the Macron EU army idea. The origins of this blueprint can be traced back to a buffoonish French General who found himself held hostage by Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in 1993 who decided that his endearing promise to protect them from the Serbs wasn’t worth the price of a cigarette. Morillon’s word that his UN soldiers would protect them amounted to nothing and the Srebrenica Massacre followed in 1995 where 8000 mainly Muslim men were slaughtered.
Morillon later became and MEP and in the European parliament in 2008 lobbied hard within the EU institutions for an “EU pillar” within NATO so that EU governments could work “alongside but not under NATO” forces [read American].
And so, the idea is hardly new and if France 24 journalists are being briefed by Macron’s team to use this term “EU pillar” then we can be sure this is where Macron and von der Leyen are heading. They are both banking on the outfit, if it were ever to get off the ground, it will largely be a talk shop and provide the gilt edge to any threatening narrative which they feel Russia would take seriously, given the vacuum at present and reports of Biden pulling troops out of Eastern Europe in a deal with Putin. It’s unclear how, if the mighty U.S. hasn’t got the guts to face Putin in Eastern Europe, a weasel French President and his fancy plan on paper will fill the gap. Much of the thinking is delusional and about promoting Macron himself as a world leader and he is following tradition. Mitterrand, Chirac and Sarkozy all went down the rout of self-promotion on the international stage when the French economy was imploding and so Macron follows the trend. But the interesting takeaway is how this plan has no endorsement whatsoever by the EU as an autonomous body. In great tradition, when the EU can’t get any support itself democratically for a bold plan, it turns to member states to do its bidding for it. And there is no shortage of servile French leaders who are happy to capitalise on the situation. Talk is, after all, cheap on the EU circuit. But whether Putin himself will want to talk to Macron, is another matter altogether.