Macron's solo act and Europe's wavering commitment to liberalism
BY NURMASH TOK
French President Emmanuel Macron's recent state visit to China, coupled with his comments suggesting the EU should avoid involvement in a potential Taiwan conflict, has raised concerns about the French president's priorities and EU’s position as an increasingly unified and sovereign actor. While Macron seems to prioritize realpolitik and economic cooperation, others within the EU are urging a more cautious approach to China, with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen leading the charge. This dissonance within the EU complicates its ability to present a unified front and may weaken the bloc's position on the global stage.
Macron's controversial position on China has made headlines and raised eyebrows across Europe. The president's seemingly individual stance diverges from that of other EU leaders, including von der Leyen, who has called for de-risking the relationship with China and maintaining loyalty to regimes closer to the West. Macron's approach also reflects a wider shift in Europe's role on the global stage, with the continent appearing less committed to the beacon of liberalism than it once was. In my opinion, Europe should continue to pursue its ‘strategic autonomy’ but remain loyal to its values and honour the commitments and pledges it has made throughout the years.
The rift in Europe's stance on China highlights a larger issue: the gradual erosion of the continent's commitment to being a bastion of liberalism. The decline of liberal internationalism’s popularity reflected in the face of China's rise and the decline of US's hegemonic position on the global stage makes it increasingly difficult for Europe to maintain its idealistic stance. However, it is crucial for the EU to recognize that a more pragmatic approach to international relations does not have to come at the expense of its core values.
President Macron is right in suggesting that Europe should not blindly follow the United States. It is crucial to recognize that the US itself does not always embody the liberal internationalist dream and has itself shown that it will prioritise its own position at the expense of its allies when difficult times emerge. We witnessed when President Biden came in full support of the Green Subsidy Bill, which will indefinitely disadvantage EU’s renewable industry in the global market. Also, with issues like the widening wealth gap, ongoing racial tensions, and a polarised political environment, the US has its challenges when it comes to upholding liberal democratic values, making it a less credible actor to follow when pursuing foreign relations. Therefore, it is understandable that European leaders may want to adopt a more independent foreign policy stance that allows them to make decisions based on their best interests and unique circumstances.
However, recognizing the shortcomings of the US and the liberal model should not lead Europe to become blindsided to the challenges brought by autocratic countries like China and Russia. The treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, the potential war in Taiwan, and China's aggressive approach to territorial disputes are all cause for concern. While it is crucial for the EU to navigate the complexities of international relations and acknowledge the economic and political realities of China's growing influence, the bloc must not abandon its commitment to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, as they are the defining characteristics of its core foundation and outlook on the world.
Another issue is Macron's unilateral actions regarding China. While arguably driven by a desire to protect French and European interests, it could undermine the EU's collective power. The continent’s power lies in its ability to present a unified front and leverage the collective strength of its member states to negotiate, advocate, and respond effectively to international challenges. By deviating from the shared stance of other EU leaders, Macron risks weakening this unity, which could have far-reaching consequences.
Solidifying the EU's position as a significant player in the international arena requires a cohesive and coordinated approach to foreign policy. When member states diverge from the consensus, the bloc's credibility, and capacity to exert influence may be diminished. As we have seen in the European unstructured and sporadic response to the conflict in Ukraine and decisions on enacting tougher measures on the Russian side, its ability to coordinate an effective and unified decision on humanitarian assistance, negotiation and sanctions was bleak. The EU's ability to champion its core values, such as democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, is heavily reliant on its unity and collective resolve. By not adhering to a common policy on issues like China and Taiwan, the bloc could find itself struggling to uphold these values and counterbalance the influence of authoritarian regimes on the global stage, as was seen with its failure to effectively punish Russia for intruding on foreign territory.
Thus, President Macron's controversial stance on China underscores the challenges facing Europe as it grapples with the shifting realities of global power. Europe's challenge, then, is to strike a balance between pragmatism and idealism in its approach to global affairs. By pursuing strategic autonomy, the EU can ensure that it acts in its best interests without being overly reliant on the United States or other allies. At the same time, the bloc must continue to advocate for its core values and hold countries like China accountable for their actions. In doing so, Europe can retain its position as a significant player in the international arena while staying true to the principles that define its identity.
Image: Flickr/ Robert Redeker