Macron questioning NATO in Economist interview raises eyebrows about his methods

To say that NATO cannot work with members who take unilateral decisions without consulting each other, as the United States and Turkey did in Syria, is obvious and might be too sensitive an issue to be exposed. EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ

Emmanuel Macron presented his geopolitical vision in an interview with The Economist on Thursday (7 November), and it once again attracted a wide range of criticism. By speaking of a “NATO brain death”, this recent diplomatic blunder is putting the French president’s partnerships at risk. EURACTIV France reports.

In an interview with Le Monde on Friday (8 November), the new High Representative of the European Union for External Affairs, Josep Borrell, urged people to refer to the entire Economist interview with Macron published on Thursday, rather than to the shock formula referring to “NATO brain death”, which has been causing trouble across European capitals.

Borrell, who will take office on 1 December, nevertheless justified Macron’s statement, which in his opinion “also reflects the urgent need for Europe to move forward with determination in the development of its defence capabilities, to be able to deal with the conflicts that affect it most closely”. He defended the French president for having dared to address the ‘elephant in the room’, by taking shots at NATO and calling for “lucidity”.

Such terms were, however, rejected by Berlin and Washington, where US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that NATO remained “one of the most decisive strategic partnerships in history”.

However, most of the criticism concerns the form, and above all this “brain-dead” formula, of an organisation that guarantees the safety of the majority of European countries.

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The timing may also be surprising, as Macron criticised the intergovernmental military alliance just before its 70th anniversary in London in early December. It appears the French president intends to shake up the meeting’s agenda.

A series of diplomatic blunders

Since September, and following Vladimir Putin’s visit to France, France’s foreign policy has tended to raise questions, with a French president who seems to be posing as Europe’s foreign minister.

Many countries have not understood France’s opposition to the opening of accession talks with Northern Macedonia. The Greeks are now looking with concern at the Prespa Agreement, which sealed the end of a very long name dispute with North Macedonia. The lack of a European perspective risks rekindling the nationalist flames in North Macedonia.

“The agreement may not be implemented, for example, the new name, North Macedonia, will not be changed on the monuments if the nationalist party VRMO is elected in next elections; and in the end, the agreement will be in danger,” warned Sia Anagnostopoulou, a Syriza MP and former minister for European affairs in the leftist Tsipras government.

Bulgaria and Ukraine were also alarmed by Macron’s comments about some of their nationals, whom he accused of trafficking in illegal workers,

“The president’s analysis is relevant, but the risk is the tension it creates between the European partners. It’s happening with each of Macron’s misinterpreted little sentences. Positions get tougher, and the Macron method is not working. He risks losing his battles,” underlined Alice Pannier, a professor of European studies and international relations at Johns Hopkins University in Washington.

This appears to be an issue related to the diplomatic method, especially since the observation and vision put forward by the president are, on the contrary, often shared.

France halts EU enlargement

France blocked the opening of accession talks with North Macedonia on Tuesday (15 October), despite the promise made by the EU to Skopje that its historic name deal with Greece, the Prespa agreement, would earn it a ticket to EU membership negotiations.

A realistic vision that is still being debated

There is a consensus that Europe is conceived as a political project, but it only works when it comes to economic issues, and the model worked as long as free trade and democracy were a given.

Now that there is a trade war, democracy is being threatened and the independence of Europe’s judiciary and press are at risk, the model is starting to falter.

However, a vision needs consensus for it to be debated successfully. But Macron’s realistic approach to Russia, with which he wants to resume dialogue, remains in the way of his partners.

To say that NATO cannot work with members who take unilateral decisions without consulting each other, as the United States and Turkey did in Syria, is obvious and might be too sensitive an issue to be exposed.

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President Emmanuel Macron placed great emphasis on Russia during his annual speech in front of French diplomats on Tuesday (27 August), telling ambassadors that “Europe would disappear” if it fails to rethink its strategy towards Russia. EURACTIV France reports.

Syria crystallised tensions

This is especially the case since the president “does not propose a geopolitical vision that could replace the lack of a common vision within NATO. Should Turkey be expelled from NATO, or should Article 5 be challenged?” Alice Pannier wondered.

Trouble erupted mainly after the French president started discussing Syria in his interview with The Economist. He stressed that Turkey’s attack on NATO allies potentially raised questions about Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, a clause that provides that attacked members of the Alliance will be immediately defended by their peers.

“What will Article 5 be tomorrow?” Macron asked in The Economist interview. And this is a real question which cannot be avoided at the next NATO summit in London. For this to happen, other European countries must also support France.

“Macron has so many more ideas than other European leaders. But he would have more influence if he had the patience to build coalitions to defend them,” Charles Grant, director of the CER think tank, recently pointed out.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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