24 Apr French Elections- What would a Macron presidency mean for the UK?
With Macron and Le Pen now through to the second round of voting in the French election, the UK faces two very different foreign policy futures with a key trading, security and diplomatic partner. In this first of two articles looking at the potential impacts for the UK in a post-Brexit era, what can Britain expect if Macron, the enigmatic-centrist candidate, and current frontrunner after Sunday’s vote, clinches the presidency?
Macron is a staunch Europhile. It is unsurprising therefore, that Macron’s foreign policy interests prioritise France’s growing influence in a stronger EU. A glance at Macron’s campaign manifesto, “En Marche” shows that any Franco-British agenda remains wholly subservient to his “European project”. However, on closer look at what Macron has said during interviews throughout the campaign, and at the broader nature of his policies, a more nuanced vision can be drawn.
Defence and Security
Macron’s lack of clarity on where he views Franco-British relations in his foreign policy pecking order is most visible around defence and security. Historically, France and Britain have shared significant defence and security ties. The Lancaster House Treaties of 2010 that reinforced our nations’ defence and security cooperation are testament to that. As fellow permanent members of the UN security council, France and Britain work collaboratively in formulating resolutions in global security matters. More recently, the British government has reinforced its desire to “build an exceptionally close defence and security relationship together” post Brexit. There have been times Macron has echoed this commitment. During his meeting with Theresa May, Macron tweeted, “I have arrived at Downing Street. Defence of a strong EU and a solid relationship in terms of security and defence with the UK (discussed with) Theresa May”. Nonetheless, in his manifesto, Macron describes Brexit as an illustration of how “our most important traditional allies are growing distant”. Consequently, Macron argues that this gives cause for the development of a stronger Europe with an increased collective defence and security capacity. This includes creating a European army, responsible for protecting European boarders and a European defence fund to finance common military equipment and technology. The UK should be proactive in showing a Macron-led France that our departure from the EU does not symbolise a desire to act alone on defence and security matters, as well as the unique nature of our mutually beneficial bilateral relationships.
In the context of an increasing terrorist threat in Europe, this defence and security cooperation becomes more important than ever for both countries. Both London and Paris have experienced terrorist attacks in the past two months, a trend which has led to France remaining under a state of emergency for two years. Following Thursday’s terrorist attack in Paris, Macron pledged, “I want to protect you, I am ready”. The centrist candidate recognises the need to make anti-terrorism measures an international effort. Following his meeting with Theresa May in February, Macron announced that “the fight against terrorism” was discussed. It seems in the arena of anti-terrorism, continued Franco-British cooperation would likely remain high up in the agenda of a Macron presidency.
Looking further afield to wider geopolitical concerns, Macron shows signs of being a promising partner alongside Britain. Macron said that, for him, “foreign policy which is not multilateral in nature cannot effectively promote peace”. His globalist and socially liberal ideology has informed his proclaimed dedication to NATO and will almost certainly mean France will remain an active member of the OSCE, and the UN security council, engaging in humanitarian and security issues internationally. More specifically in regards to Syria, Macron has affirmed that France “cannot stay on the side lines”. His dialogue surrounding Russia has been firm. Macron has denounced Russia’s annexation of Crimea, their involvement with Assad and, like Britain, has reinforced the need for an open dialogue with Moscow. Theoretically, a Macron presidency would mean British and French foreign policy interests would align on many issues. However, Macron’s foreign policy capability has been criticised and labelled as an apparent weakness. During a televised campaign debate, Macron summarised his views on foreign policy. Le Pen retorted that, “I am unable to summarise what you have said for the past seven minutes, you haven’t really said anything”. Only time will tell in the eventuality of a Macron-led France if his ideology can transform into constructive policy.
As Britain prepares to leave the EU, a Macron presidency could significantly influence the EU negotiation position, and probably not to Britain’s advantage. Macron has publicly condemned Brexit and set out the hard-line view he would take at the Brexit negotiating table. Whilst on a campaign visit to London, Macron quipped: “The best trade agreement for Britain … is called membership of the EU”. The potential president’s views should be seen in the context of the growing Euroscepticism in France, encouraged by his opponent, Le Pen. Macron will most likely want Britain to feel a sting for leaving the EU to silence the calls for a Frexit. However, our overall trade relationship is likely to remain relatively unscathed in the eventuality of a Macron presidency. The UK is France’s 5th largest trading partner, and Macron claims to be an advocate for globalisation. These realities will likely lead to France pursuing its economic interests alongside the UK, despite Macron’s tough stance against Brexit.
It is inevitable Macron will prioritise Europe in his foreign policy pursuits over those with the UK. However, there are a number of reasons to believe Macron will want to retain close ties with the UK, and vice-versa. A continued, and strengthened security and defence cooperation is needed in a time of increased terrorist threat. As major trading partners, the UK should fit comfortably in Macron’s vision for a globalised economy. And finally, in spite of Macron’s harsh view of Brexit, Britain remains tied to France through history, geography and culture. In light of this, it would be reasonable to assume, if Macron wins the Presidency, he will enjoy many more visits to No.10.