Categorized | Europe, European Union, France, World

Macron’s New Cabinet Heralds Revival of a European Defence

Image by Adriano Aurelio Araujo.

With the recent nomination of his government, President Macron takes a chance to rejuvenate the idea of a European defence, an ambitious plan that collapsed when it failed to obtain the ratification in the French Parliament back in 1954.

The European Defence Community emerged from the Pleven plan, proposed in 1950 by the French Prime Minister René Pleven. This proposed six-nation integrated European army constituted one of the first attempts to create a purely European multinational military capability. The plan collapsed when it failed to obtain ratification in the French Parliament in August 1954. The reasons behind the failed ratification of the Treaty were twofold and concerned major changes in the international scene with the end of the Korean War and the death of Stalin, as well as domestic problems of the French Fourth Republic.

Since then, new initiatives have been launched but today the European Union still does not have a defence as such. The main defense-related European agency is the EDA, a Common Foreign and Security Policy body established in 2004 and aimed at fostering European defense cooperation which reports to the Council of the European Union. Despite the existence of this Brussels-based agency, the main military alliance in Europe remains NATO. Here, France had a historical military strategy of independence from the North Atlantic Alliance from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s.

The current unstable international situation has led to new discussions about cooperation in defence and security issues within the European Union, which recently celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaties. The Trump presidency represents a paradox for Europe. On the one hand, it threatens many postwar structures that have helped in defining the European continent and restoring peace. On the other hand, his political impact on Europe could provide the stimulus the continent needs to redefine itself, since its existing relationships with the United States and Russia have tended to weaken Europe’s ability to manage and defend itself.

The election of Emmanuel Macron on May 7, whose strong European vision is best evidenced through the use of “Ode to Joy” – the anthem of Europe – as the musical background to his long victory march, could give extra momentum to the development of a Union which has been beset by various challenges and crises in recent years. The names of the different ministries chosen by Emmanuel Macron and his Prime Minister Edouard Philippe are also not hollow; Europe is at the heart of Macron’s Left-Right government. Indeed, the choice of a Ministry of “Europe and Foreign Affairs” is an important symbol given that his second round opponent, Marine Le Pen, was a eurosceptic far-right candidate ready to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. In addition to Jean-Yves le Drian, the socialist politician who served as Minister of Defense during the five-year mandate of President Hollande and who recently inherited the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, Marielle de Sarnez, the vice-chair of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), was nominated as the Minister for European affairs. De Sarnez, whose field of expertise covers the inner workings of the Union, will be in charge of the matching ministerial portfolio.

In the nomination of the Cabinet, another announcement came as a surprise. President Macron appointed Sylvie Goulard at the “Armed Forces” Ministry, a meaningful designation that had fallen into disuse since 1974. Goulard, who becomes the second female minister in charge of the French army, is known as the ALDE group coordinator and as a centrist MEP where she has been elected twice in a row since 2009. Having participated in the creation of the federalist inter-parliamentary Spinelli Group and worked as a political advisor to Romano Prodi when he was the President of the European Commission, she is an assumed europhile. Goulard, a polyglot, arranged a highly publicized meeting between Macron and the German Chancellor during the presidential campaign. Her nomination is another gauge of the newly elected President’s declared European aspirations as well as his desire not to succumb to the hegemonic dominance of NATO.

Macron, who met with Angela Merkel in Berlin the day after his inauguration, seems to be taking his new role as a European leader seriously. The Armed Forces Minister Sylvie Goulard, who already knows her female German counterpart very well, will have to demonstrate tenacity and leadership in order to allow the renaissance of the spirit of Jean Monnet. The stakes are multiple and Europe will have to bounce back from the recent terrorist attacks within and beyond its borders.

In the upcoming months, the French government will be expecting a less hesitant approach from its European partners regarding several burning issues, one of them being the resolution of the Malian conflict, where assistance from its European counterparts is still limited. Since the launch of the Serval operation in January 2013, followed in July 2014 by the Barkhane regional operation, France has been working in a solitary fashion, often bemoaning the lack of support from other European countries. Speaking with a single voice in the international arena, creating a clear roadmap, and defining the outlines of a united stance on defence and foreign policy issues will be essential to the shaping of the European Union as a global power.

In light of the outcomes of the recent Austrian, Dutch and French elections, the European project seems to be on a significant upward trajectory. The populist deviations have been temporarily averted, but the hurdles to be overcome are many. With Macron’s new pro-European cabinet in position, the Franco-German alliance will have to move forward in tandem to chart the contours of a common defence project as one element of the broader project of securing the future of Europe.

Image courtesy of Adriano Aurelio Araujo

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About Galatée Fouquet

Galatée Fouquet has a dual background in law and international relations. She is currently studying an advanced Master’s degree in EU International Relations and Diplomacy Studies at the College of Europe (Bruges, Belgium). Previous entries include publications in law reviews and Global Politics.

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