Varoufakis issues warning on ‘puny’ EU recovery fund
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Elected on a staunchly pro-EU platform, Mr Macron’s presidency opened the door to potentially momentous changes in the bloc. Britain’s vote to leave, the aftermath of the transatlantic financial crisis, and the failed 2005 French and Dutch referendums on the EU constitution project had already made clear that institutional reforms were needed. In sweeping speeches, Mr Macron set out a bold vision.
In an impassioned, hour-and-a-half long speech at Paris’ prestigious Sorbonne University three years ago, the French President outlined his vision for a “profound transformation” of the EU, unveiling a series of proposals to deepen the bloc politically and harmonise rules across the continent.
However, the En Marche! leader is now almost four years into his presidency and has made little progress.
His foreign policy record shows how he often failed to match his own high-flown rhetoric and lofty ambitions.
Tara Varma, head of the Paris office of the European Council on Foreign Relations, told POLITICO: “The commitments France made are too ambitious and it hasn’t managed to convince the US to continue working with it on the big issues: Iran, climate, trade or Covid.”
In Donald Trump, he faced a unilateralist US President who enthusiastically pursued withdrawal from international organisations and two key international agreements: the Paris climate pact and the Iran nuclear deal.
Mr Macron tried to limit the damage or keep things on life support but his rhetorical powers failed to convince Washington to change its fundamental course.
In Joe Biden, Mr Macron now has a partner in the White House who is committed to working closely with America’s traditional allies and returning to international forums.
However, it is clear the French leader has already failed to cement his vision of a strategically autonomous Europe into the bedrock of EU foreign policy.
In November, the French President clashed with German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who appeared to outmanoeuvre him in a row over how much — and how fast — the EU can realistically ramp up its defence capabilities as the US pivots toward Asia.
In other areas, Mr Macron pushed Europe to develop a more cohesive approach to China and also ventured into the digital domain, playing a key role in the Christchurch Call — a pledge by countries and companies to eliminate extremist content on the Internet in the aftermath of the 2019 terrorist attack in New Zealand.
However, some of his claims to have influenced the global landscape are viewed as overblown, such as his assertion that France played a crucial role in keeping China within the Paris climate deal.
Antoine Bondaz, a China researcher at the Foundation for Strategic Research think tank in Paris, said: “It’s total wishful thinking.
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“China stayed in the climate agreement because it was in its interest, it allowed it to feed the narrative that the US is unilateralist while China is a multilateral power.
“Its commitments in the Paris agreement are long-term so they don’t have a major impact on its economy right now.”
Closer to home, it is also apparent how Mr Macron has often failed to change the geopolitical landscape, crushing his dream of leading a European bloc that could rival the US and China.
Last year, Paris was cut out of the ceasefire agreement reached in Nagorno-Karabakh, despite Mr Macron’s efforts to get involved.
Russian President Vladimir Putin brokered the deal alone, while Turkey, having decisively intervened militarily, also helped shape the outcome.
Mr Macron’s recent fight against Lebanon’s corrupted elite has also been described as his “latest impossible mission’.
In the Eastern Mediterranean, the French President took a forceful stand against what he described as Turkish expansionist and hegemonic behavior.
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However, he has so far failed to get key NATO and EU allies to back his hard line.
While many have voiced support for Greece and Cyprus in their disputes with Turkey, they have adopted a more cautious approach.
His hardline stance on Brexit also did not make the grade.
Throughout the negotiations, Mr Macron threatened to veto the deal if there was no reciprocal access to each other’s waters.
But as part of the trade deal agreed on Christmas Eve, Brussels is handing back 25 percent of the catch of EU vessels in British waters by total value over the next five-and-a-half years.
The UK and EU will also hold annual negotiations on access, with British politicians able to completely shut out European boats if they choose to do so.
Mr Macron’s biggest legacy-building achievement so far appears to be the EU’s coronavirus recovery fund — the culmination of a long-held French ambition to get the bloc to take on common debt.
Although the German Chancellor’s conversion to the idea was crucial, Mr Macron’s government worked closely with Berlin to lay the groundwork for the plan.
That came on top of years of efforts from the French President to build a close relationship with Berlin.
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The latest EU vaccine fiasco, though, risks overshadowing the economic response.
According to the head of Oxford-based think-tank Euro Intelligence Wolfgang Munchau, the slow rollout will have serious consequences, particularly in countries where elections are nearing.
He wrote in a recent report: “We see the EU’s vaccine crisis having three successive inter-related effects: a prolonged lockdown, a longer second leg of our double-dip recession, and an anti-incumbent mood.
“These have yet to play out.
“With elections in the Netherlands in March, in Germany in September and in France in April 2022, there is potential for upheaval.”
President of the National Rally political party Marine Le Pen has recently come within reach for the first time of beating French President Emmanuel Macron in the 2022 election.
The Harris survey has suggested that Ms Le Pen is close to breaching the “glass ceiling” of French politics.
The barrier was based on the longstanding assumption that an absolute majority of voters would never back a far-right candidate.
If next year’s election was staged now, Ms Le Pen would have 48 percent of the vote, with Mr Macron on 52 percent, according to the poll carried out online on January 19 and 20.
The four-point difference, which is within the margin of error, compared with a June 2020 Ifop poll that put Mr Macron at 55 percent and Ms Le Pen at 45.
In 2017, Mr Macron, who at the time was a debutant politician running as an independent candidate, crushed Ms Le Pen with 66 percent to her 34 percent.
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