Macron's Brexit obsession leaves him blind to France's real adversary

17 October 2021

4:35 PM

17 October 2021

4:35 PM

Emmanuel Macron’s Europe minister Clément Beaune is fast gaining a reputation for bashing all things British. ‘Stop telling us you do not need us anymore, stop being obsessed with us, stop believing we will solve your problems,’ he raged recently. ‘They made a mess of Brexit. It’s their choice and their failure, not ours.’

Beaune’s boss has much the same mindset: five years after Brexit, Macron is still in a sulk. ‘The Brexit campaign was made up of lies, exaggerations and simplifications,’ he told France in a New Year’s address last year. ‘We must remember at every moment what lies can lead to in our democracies.’ This from the president who, in July, broke a solemn vow to his people that he would not introduce vaccine passports.

It’s no coincidence that both Macron and Beaune are Enarques, graduates of the Ecole National Administration, or ENA, the finishing school for French technocrats. Macron’s predecessor, François Hollande, is a graduate. Prime minister Jean Castex also went there, as did his predecessor Édouard Philippe. So, too, did defence minister Florence Parly and finance minister Bruno Le Maire.

Beaune is a relatively young man. He was ten when, in 1991, ENA relocated from Paris to Strasbourg. It was a symbolic gesture by François Mitterrand’s socialist government. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and ever closer European union it was felt that moving ENA close to the Franco-German border – to the city that is home to the EU parliament – would send a strong message: from now on, the brains of the Republic will be formed not just with the future of France in mind but also that of Europe.

Beaune’s Brit bashing appears to be motivated by this perspective forged at the ENA: he sees himself, not just as a Frenchman, but as a European eager to rebuke perfidious Albion for its temerity to leave the EU.

One of the characteristics of Enarques is insufferable arrogance. It is why all too often they are despised by their own people. They are aware of this loathing; indeed, in April, Macron even announced the closure of ENA. But rest assured it will re-emerge in another form. After all, technocrats are the very essence of France, like cheese, wine and angry farmers.

Enarques apart, the French are broadly fond of the British. We remain endearingly eccentric. As a Brit living in France, I’ve never experienced any animosity about Brexit, fishing or submarines. I’ve never been harangued by a taxi driver or reproached by a fishmonger. I’ve had French people express their regret at Britain’s departure from the EU, but this has always been tinged with understanding and sometimes envy.

If Macron thinks bashing Britain will win him some votes he is mistaken. His Anglophobia is not shared by his people. His obsession is a reflection of how little he and his ENA-run government know their country that they think there might be mileage in maligning Britain.

But there is one European nation that might prove a profitable line of attack for the president as he hits the campaign trail ahead of next year’s election: Germany. While Britain continues to delude itself that it has a ‘special relationship’ with the United States, the same can be said of France’s infatuation with Germany; they remain fully committed but their partner has been cruelly exploiting their neediness for years.

The French media is aware of this relationship imbalance. Earlier this year, current affairs magazine Marianne devoted an issue to how Germany has taken economic advantage of France over the decades. Last month, another weekly, Le Point, published an op-ed declaring it was time France took back control from Germany and ended the ‘illusion in the Franco-German couple, (a couple only France believes in) and the neurotic fascination of the French elite for Germany’.

It cited many examples of what it called Germany’s ‘strictly selfish politics’, including their torpedoing in 2012 of the $45 billion (£40 billion) merger between EADS, Europe’s largest aerospace company, and Britain’s BAE Systems that would have created an aerospace and defence group to rival Boeing. France supported the merger but it was overruled by its EADS co-partner because Angela Merkel considered it would be bad for German industry. On that occasion there was no tantrum from France, unlike Macron’s response to last month’s AUKUS defence deal.

Earlier this week, Macron announced a €30 billion (£25 billion) investment plan to transform France into a global innovation leader by 2030. It was typical Macron: full of bold visions and confident claims. But if he is serious about ‘re-industrialising’ his country he will first have to end France’s one-sided relationship with Germany.

In a radio interview last week to promote his new book, French energy expert Fabien Bouglé accused Germany – the only European nation among the ten biggest carbon polluters – of ‘waging an economic war to control our energy system’. Their strategy is to diminish France’s reliance on nuclear energy. Germany has already sold France a great many wind turbines, which they don’t really need, and now it wants France to pipe in gas from Russia’s Nord-Stream 2 to complement the unreliable wind energy.

Will Macron muster the courage to stand up to the Chancellor? It’s unlikely. He was groomed in the groupthink of ENA where graduates believe Germany is only a force for good in Europe. Brexit Britain, on the other hand, will always be the baddie.

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