Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Despite weak outlook in France, President Macron maintains strong foreign ties

Emmanuel Macron may be weak at home after being forced into a political maneuver after parliamentary elections, but the French president has the resources to remain one of the world’s most influential leaders on the international stage.

France’s foreign allies closely watched Sunday’s elections where Macron’s coalition won the most seats but lost its majority in the National Assembly, France’s most powerful parliament.

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The result has made life at home for the 44-year-old centrist significantly more difficult, making it more difficult to implement his agenda – such as pension changes and tax cuts. Yet their international agenda is not expected to be derailed in the immediate future.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Macron has been at the center of international diplomacy over the war. Despite the historical change and increasing polarization in French politics, experts do not expect this to change.

“There will be a huge difference between the pressure they feel at home compared to their free rein abroad,” said Laurie Dundon, a France-based senior associate fellow at the European Leadership Network.

Macron, who is in Brussels for a two-day European Council summit, is planning for next week’s NATO summit to be in Germany and in Spain for seven weeks.

“I think there is a leadership in Europe,” Macron said on Friday in response to a question referring to the position of the French parliament. He said that many nations in the European Union are led by coalition or minority governments.

“I will not oppose the political complexity of our countries … and the European leadership. On the contrary, I think they reinforce each other. It gives us more work” to find a compromise, he said.

The President of France has substantial powers over foreign policy, European affairs and defence. He is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the country.

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France has provided Ukraine with significant financial and military aid since Russia invaded its neighboring country. The French government also sent its troops to strengthen Europe’s defenses on its eastern side.

During the French presidential campaign, Macron’s popularity grew because of his leadership role in efforts to end the war: he supported strict sanctions against Moscow, keeping an open line with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr. Maintained almost constant contact with Zelensky.

Macron, who won a second term against right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen in April, along with other European leaders traveled to Kyiv earlier this month amid two rounds of parliamentary elections.

According to opinion polls, France’s support for Ukraine has widespread domestic popularity, and opposition leaders have cautiously refrained from criticizing it.

The platform of the left-wing coalition, led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, which has become France’s main opposition force, is clearly in favor of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. On the far right, Le Pen, who has long had links to Russia, says she supports a “free Ukraine”, expressing reservations on arms deliveries.

“Foreign policy is not an area where either Le Pen or Mélancheon want to spend their energy, when they have too many domestic issues to challenge Macron,” Dundon said.

“None of them want to engage in a diplomatic mess over Russia and Ukraine,” she said.

First elected in 2017, the staunchly pro-European Macron has never hidden his ambition for a leadership role in global diplomacy. His re-election in April cemented his position as a senior player in Europe as it faces war in Ukraine and the consequences on the continent and beyond.

France’s strong presidential powers are a legacy from the will of General Charles de Gaulle, who, in the Fifth Republic established in 1958, had a stable political system, the period after World War II experienced a succession of short-lived, inefficient governments.

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The President represents the country abroad, meeting with foreign heads of states and governments. It is the Prime Minister, appointed by the President, who is accountable to the Parliament.

The National Assembly has negligible power over the President’s foreign agenda, although it exercises control over government spending.

“Parliament has not been asked to voice its opinion on arms dispatches to Ukraine, nor on France’s external operations, particularly in the Sahel, as part of an anti-ISIS coalition in the Middle East, or in Afghanistan,” Nicolas Tanzer, Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis.

However, Parliament should give its authority to extend these functions after four months, he insisted.

Enthusiastic opposition, left and right, may try to use the power of Parliament to force a debate. Every week, lawmakers are entitled to question members of the government – but not the president – about foreign policy. This is an opportunity to raise criticism on important issues.

But the debate in France is expected to remain largely focused on domestic policies.

In a sign that the president’s focus may shift, at least temporarily, to political reparations at home, Macron hardly mentioned his international agenda when delivering his first speech since parliamentary elections on Wednesday. He only briefly mentioned the European meeting focused on Ukraine.

“I will have only one compass: that we proceed for the common good,” he said to the French.

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Nation World News Desk
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