The Brief, powered by amfori – Macron’s Russia syndrome

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [Shutterstock/Frederic Legrand]

Reaching out to Russia will make Europe less dependent on the US and turn it into a more assertive, autonomous foreign policy actor. At least that seems to be French President Emmanuel Macron’s thinking.

But this stance is becoming increasingly problematic for Europe and has started to erode France’s own credibility.

Moscow has not been its own best friend in recent weeks. First, President Vladimir Putin contemplated sending a reserve police force to assist Alexander Lukashenko and intervene in Belarus if necessary. 

Then one of Putin’s fiercest critics ended up in a German hospital, where testing by a special German military laboratory found proof he had been poisoned with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok.

In Germany, which is usually reluctant to poke the Russian bear too much, voices across the political aisle have been surprisingly unequivocal in demanding that the Russian side pay, for once.

Berlin is even publicly discussing whether it would be time to consider halting Germany’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, turning the project Berlin always claimed was not political into a matter of political pressure.

Amid all that mess, France has been rather silent.

Macron did say France is ready to give poisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny all necessary assistance, including asylum.

But besides that, it’s business as usual:

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Defence Minister Florence Parly plan to meet Russian counterparts, Sergei Lavrov and Sergei Shoigu, on 14 September for talks on security matters.

To say that the timing is impeccable would be an understatement.

Perhaps, as the topic is security, their intention will be to raise the issue of why a substance classified as a chemical weapon was used on Russian territory, with or without the Kremlin’s knowledge.

Some analysts rightly asked how France would react if, for example, Poland or any other bigger Eastern European country held talks with Turkey on stability in the Mediterranean.

The outcome probably wouldn’t be pretty.

Over the past few years, the French president has repeatedly been accused of hubris over his bid to repair Europe’s relations with Moscow (and over a number of other things).

Many of France’s allies — notably Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and the Baltic states — are wary, and several want to maintain or reinforce EU sanctions against Russia, imposed over the Crimea annexation.

A peace summit on Ukraine, which took place in Paris at the end of last year, produced meagre results. Likewise, French engagement on Iran’s nuclear ambitions and North Africa is just as unlikely to impress Moscow in any way.

Macron’s latest call to the leaders of Russia and Iran, urging them to co-operate with the rest of the international community to restore stability in Lebanon, a matter close to the French heart, has gone largely unnoticed.

While Iran and Russia are important power players in the region and have offered Lebanon aid since last week’s devastating explosion, neither participated in an international donors’ conference in August organised by France and the UN to help rebuild Beirut.

It is becoming increasingly clear that what Macron might see as a smart, fine line of French foreign policy, is, in reality, destroying the West’s unity over Russia.


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The Roundup

Turning up the pressure on the EU, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is threatening to table new legislation and override requirements for new Northern Ireland customs arrangements, intended to prevent the return of checks at the Irish border from next year.

David Frost, the UK’s chief negotiator on a post-Brexit trade deal upped the ante ahead of a crunch week of negotiations, warning that Johnson’s government was not “scared” of walking away from talks without a deal to govern trade from 2021.

It’s impossible to predict exactly the timeframe necessary for a COVID-19 vaccine to become available, said Nathalie Moll, director-general of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA).

The Council of Europe insisted that there is an urgent need to provide “effective oversight” on the surveillance activities of international intelligence agencies and the threats to privacy that emerge as a result.

Major economies promised to recover green after COVID-19 and accelerate climate action during a virtual ministerial meeting hosted by Japan.

Look out for…

Commissioner Breton holding talks with EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove.

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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