February 18, 2019

Vive le Nationalisme!

“Perhaps French President Emmanuel Macron was busy examining the damage wrought by rioters at the Arc de Triomphe this weekend, but he has not yet responded to a telling suggestion from German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz. Mr. Scholz proposed last week that France turn over its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council to the European Union. Only a French nationalist could disagree, right? And Mr. Macron has made a point of denouncing nationalism as selfish and immoral.

But Mr. Macron’s posturing aside, the French are nationalist to the core. Ask the European parliamentarians and their staffers who must make the expensive, time-consuming, carbon-emitting trip from Brussels to Strasbourg once a month to maintain the absurd fiction that French Strasbourg is the home of the European Parliament. Ask any European negotiator who has tried to prune back the Common Agricultural Policy, a giant boondoggle under which France is the largest recipient of funds. Ask any Italian diplomat about French policies in Libya. Ask any American negotiator about France’s approach to trade. Ask any German diplomat who has had a few drinks.

French diplomacy under President Macron is as nationalist as ever. His core objective is to shift EU economic policy in France’s favor. Mr. Macron hoped introducing market-based reforms in France would persuade Germany to loosen the EU purse strings and give Paris more fiscal running room. Then, perhaps, the resulting boost to the French economy would reconcile public opinion to Mr. Macron’s reforms. But he has not made much progress, in part because the German government is too weak to take large political risks. Now he is facing voters’ wrath.

It is ironic that it was a “green” fuel tax that sparked the rioting across France. From the standpoint of the elites who manage France’s international portfolio, France’s climate policy has been a great success. As they see it, shrewd French diplomacy brought the world to Paris in 2015 to resolve a global problem and draft a climate accord that lays the blueprint for humanity’s green future. For Mr. Macron and his associates, this is all about Making France Great Again while saving the planet. It is a glorious achievement; the French should be thrilled.”

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