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Macron’s Psycho-Play To Keep Aloft The Punctured Balloon Of A ‘Geo-Political EU’

Emmanuel Macron, Credit: Remi Jouan, via Wikimedia Commons

By , Strategic Culture Foundation | Mar 26, 2024

Charles Michel, the European Council President, has called on Europe to switch to a “war economy.” He justifies this call partly as urgent support for Ukraine, but more pertinently, as the need for relaunching the (beached) European economy by focussing on the defence industry.

Calls ring out across Europe: ”We are in a pre-war era,” Polish PM Donald Tusk says. Macron, after mooting the possibility ambiguously several times, says, “Maybe at some point – I don’t want it – we will have to have operations [French troops in Ukraine], on the ground, to counter the Russian forces.”

What has spooked the Europeans so? We know the French Intelligence briefing reaching Macron in recent days was dire; it seems to have triggered his initial sally into direct French military intervention in Ukraine. French classified Intelligence warned that the collapse of the Contact Line, and the disintegration of the AFU as a functioning military force, might be imminent.

Macron played coy: Might he send troops? At one time seemingly “yes”; but then frustratingly the prospect was uncertain, yet still possibly on the table. Confusion reigned. Nobody knew for sure, as the President is nothing if not volatile, and General De Gaulle bequeathed to his successors, quasi-regal powers. So yes, constitutionally he could do it.

The general view in Europe was that Macron was playing complex mind-games, firstly with the French people, and secondly with Russia. Nevertheless, it seems that there could be some substance to Macron’s sabre-rattling: The French Chief of Army Staff said he has 20,000 troops ready to be inserted in 30 days. And the Head of Russia’s SVR Intelligence Agency, Naryshkin, more modestly assessed that France seemingly is preparing a military contingent for sending to Ukraine, which at the initial stage, will be about two thousand people.

Just to be clear however, even a 20,000-man division by standards of classical military theory is supposed to be able to hold at maximum, a 10km-front. An insertion of two or twenty thousand French troops would change nothing strategically; it would not halt the vastly larger Russian steamroller, grinding on westwards. So what is Macron playing at?

Is this all bluff, then?

Likely, it is part “grandstanding” by Macron, pre-occupied to present himself as “Mr Strongman Europe” – particularly toward his French constituency.

His posturing comes however, at a more significant conjunction of events for the so-called “Geo-political EU”:

Clarity: Light has pierced, and has illuminated a space hitherto occupied by shadows. It is now as clear as it can be – after Putin’s overwhelming win in elections on a record turnout – that President Putin is here to stay. All the western shadow-play of “régime change” in Moscow simply shrunk to naught in the bright light of events.

Snorts of anger can be heard from some quarters in Europe. Yet they will subside. There is no choice. The reality, as Marianne newspaper, quoting a senior French officer, derisively noting in respect to Macron’s Ukraine’s posturing: “We must make no mistake, facing the Russians; we are an army of cheerleaders” and sending French troops to the Ukrainian front would simply be “not reasonable.”

At the Élysée, an unnamed advisor argued that Macron “wanted to send a strong signal … (in) milli-metered and calibrated words.”

What pains the EU “neocon ever-hopefuls” more is that Putin’s clear electoral victory coincides, almost precisely, with an EU (and NATO) humiliation in Ukraine. It is not just that the AFU appears to be in a cascading implosion, but that the retreat is accelerating, as Ukraine tries to retreat into unprepared and near indefensible terrain.

Into this grim EU prospect is that second shaft of clarifying light: The US is slowly but surely turning its back on the financing and arming of Kiev, leaving Europe’s impotence exposed for all the world to see.

The EU simply cannot substitute for the US pivot. Yet more hurtful for some is that a US retreat represents a “punch in the guts” for much of the Brussels leadership, who had fallen on the Biden Administration with almost indecent glee, upon Trump’s leaving of office. They used the moment to proclaim the cementing of a pro-Atlanticist, pro-NATO EU.

Now, as former Indian diplomat MK Bhadrakumar perfectly defines it, “France [is] all dressed up – with nowhere to go”:

Ever since its ignominious defeat in the Napoleonic wars, France is entrapped in the predicament of countries that get sandwiched between great powers. Following World War II, France addressed this predicament by forging an axis with Germany in Europe.

Caught up in a similar predicament, Britain adapted itself to a subaltern role tapping into the American power globally but France never gave up its quest to regain glory as a global power. And it continues to be a work in progress.

The angst in the French mind is understandable as the five centuries of western dominance of the world order is drawing to a close. This predicament condemns France to a diplomacy that is constantly in a state of suspended animation, interspersed with sudden bouts of activism.

The problems here for the exalted aspiration for the EU qua global power are three-fold: Firstly, the Franco-German Axis has dissolved, as Germany swerved towards the US as its new foreign-policy dogma. Secondly, France’s clout is diminished further in European affairs as Scholtz has embraced Poland (not France) as its like-minded, “best friend forever”; and thirdly, Macron’s personal relations with Chancellor Scholz are on a dive.

The other plane to the EU geo-political project is that the embrace of Washington’s financial wars on Russia and China has resulted in “the US has dramatically outgrowing the EU and the United Kingdom combined – over the last 15 years. In 2008, the EU’s economy was somewhat larger than America’s … America’s economy is now however, nearly one-third bigger. [And] it is more than 50 per cent larger than the EU without the UK.”

In other words, being America’s ally, in its ill-judged Ukraine-proxy war, has – and is – costing Europe dearly. Eurointelligence reports that a survey amongst small and medium-sized companies in Germany has registered an extreme shift in sentiment against the EU. Of the sample of 1,000 small and medium sized companies, 90% were unhappy with the EU to varying degrees, driving many to re-locate from Europe to the US

Put plainly, the effort to inflate and hold aloft the notion of a “geo-political Europe” is ending in débacle. Living standards are sinking and Brussel’s regulatory promiscuity and high energy costs are resulting in the de-industrialisation and impoverishment of Europe.

Macron, in a blunt interview in late 2019 with The Economist magazine, declared that Europe stood on “the edge of a precipice” and needed to start thinking of itself strategically as a geo-political power, lest we will “no longer be in control of our destiny.” (Macron’s remark preceded the war in Ukraine by 3 years).

Today, Macron’s fears are reality.

So, to turn to what the EU plans to do about this crisis, EC President Michel says he wants to buy twice as many weapons from European producers by 2030; to use the profits from Russian frozen assets to finance weapons purchases for Ukraine; to facilitate financial access for the European defence industry, including by issuing a European defence bond and getting the European Investment Bank to add defence purposes to its lending criteria.

Michel sells it to the public as a way to create jobs and growth. In reality, however, the EU is looking to create a new slush fund to replace the QE purchases by the ECB of EU states’ sovereign bonds, which the interest rate spike in the US effectively killed.

The defence industry ploy is a means to create more cash flows: The EU’s various mooted “transitions” (Climate, Greening, and Tech) clearly required mammoth money-printing. This was just about manageable when the project could be financed at zero cost interest rates. Now the EU states’ debt explosion to fund the pandemic and “transitions” threatens to take the entire geo-political “revolution” into financial crisis. There is a financing crisis underway.

Defence, Michael hopes, may be saleable to the public as the new “transition” to be financed by unorthodox means. Wolfgang Münchau at EuroIntellignce however, writes on “Michel’s rosy war economy” – that he wants a geo-political Europe, and so concludes his letter with the familiar cold war adage – that “if you want peace you need to prepare for war”.”

Are those weapons in Michel’s war economy to speak for our failures in diplomacy? What is our historic contribution to this conflict? Should we not start from there?

The language Michel uses is dramatic and dangerous. Some of our older citizens still remember what it means to live in a war economy. Michel’s loose talk is disrespectful.

Eurointelligence is not alone in its criticism. Macron’s gambit has divided Europe, with a majority firmly opposed to inserting troops into Ukraine – sleep-walking into war. Marianne’s editor Natacha Polony has written:

It is no longer about Emmanuel Macron or his postures as a virile little leader. It is no longer even about France or its weakening by blind and irresponsible élites. It is a question of whether we will collectively agree to sleepwalk into war. A war that no one can claim will be controlled or contained. It’s a question of whether we agree to send our children to die because the United States insisted on setting up bases on Russia’s borders.

The bigger question concerns the whole “Von der Leyen-Macron” geo-political gambit of the EU needing to think of itself as a geo-political power. It is the pursuit of this geo-political “chimaera” (in no little part, an ego-project) that paradoxically, has brought the EU exactly to the brink of crisis.

Do a majority of Europeans truly wish to be a geo-political power, if that requires relinquishing what remains of their national sovereignty and autonomy (and parliamentary oversight) to the supra-national plane; to the Brussels technocrats? Maybe Europeans are content for the EU to remain as a trade bloc.

So why is Macron nonetheless doing this? No one is sure, but it seems that he imagines he is playing some complicated game of psycho-deterrence with Moscow – one characterised by radical ambiguity.

His is just another psy-ops, in other words.

It is possible nonetheless, that he thinks his ambiguous on/off threat of an European deployment into Ukraine might just give Kiev enough negotiating “leverage” to bluff Russia into agreeing to “rump Ukraine” remaining in the western (and even NATO) sphere, in which case Macron will claim have been Ukraine’s “saviour.”

If this is the case, it is pie in the sky. President Putin, armed with his recent electoral victory, simply swept Macron’s psy-op off the table: “Any insertion of French troops would be ‘invaders’ and a legitimate target for our forces,” Putin made explicit.

Alastair Crooke is a former British diplomat, founder and director of the Beirut-based Conflicts Forum.

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