25 April 2022

Why Britain will remain Macron’s bête-noire

By Gavin Mortimer

They gathered in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower on Sunday evening to celebrate another five years of their hero. And as President Macron addressed his adoring supporters having comfortably seen off the challenge of Marine Le Pen there was something striking about what  the crowd were doing: they were waving more blue and gold flags of the EU than they were French tricolores.

But then should that be a surprise? For Macron is very much a European first and a Frenchman second, a loyalty shared by his acolytes.

In the last fortnight of campaigning Macron frequently warned that a vote for Le Pen would be one against Europe, and some of his ministers suggested that the National Rally leader hankered after a Frexit by stealth, whatever she might have said about remaining in the EU.

Europe was one of the issues debated by the pair live on television last Wednesday and Macron lauded what he saw as the strong cooperation within the EU in both tackling Covid and in their response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He also reiterated the importance of the ‘Franco-German couple’ in driving forward the European project.

If Le Pen had been even a half decent debater – which she most patently is not – she would have tackled Macron on this dysfunctional couple, every bit as one-sided as Britain’s so-called ‘Special Relationship’ with the United States. In both there is a dominant partner and a desperately needy one, but France is blind to how it has been taken advantage of by Germany. At least, the majority of the political class are.

The media, however, are increasingly conscious of the lop-sided relationship, and last year the current affairs magazine Marianne, devoted a big feature to the subject, entitled ‘How Germany has fleeced France’. In 1980 France’s GDP per capita was 5% lower than Germany’s; today the gap is 13%, and the magazine accused Germany of exploiting it agriculturally, militarily and industrially in the last thirty years.

This was a similar theme to an article in another current affairs magazine, Le Point, which in an op-ed demanded France end its ‘illusion in the Franco-German couple, (a couple only France believes in) and the neurotic fascination of the French elite for Germany’.

But that won’t happen under this administration. Macron, like his prime minister, Jean Castex, and several of his ministers, are graduates of the École Nationale d’Administration [ENA], the elite Strasbourg training college for technocrats, where from day one they were groomed in the infallibility of the EU and by extension, Germany. Britain, on the other hand, having chosen to leave the Union, is an apostate and must be punished.

So put aside any notion that there will be a rapprochement between France and Britain. Never. Or at least not unless Britain re-joins the EU.  But that’s not going to happen in the next five years. So relations between the two countries will continue to deteriorate regardless of whether Boris Johnson is ousted over ‘Partygate’ in the coming months.

Macron clearly has no time for the PM, who tweeted his congratulations on his re-election, adding that he looked forward ‘to continuing to work together on the issues which matter most’. Some hope. Indeed, when Bruno Le Maire, the Minister of the Economy, was asked about repairing the strained relations with Britain he replied that it ‘was not our priority’.

Johnson is the antithesis of the ascetic technocrat in the Elysée, and it is he who the president blames for spreading the untruths that led to Brexit vote. In his New Year’s message of 2021 Macron lamented Britain leaving the EU and said the winning campaign had been based on ‘lies and false promises’.

Macron just can’t bear the thought of Britain prospering outside the EU, which is why a month later he indulged in what some might say was sophistry of his own, claiming that the British-Swedish AstraZeneca vaccine was ‘quasi-ineffective for people over 65’. Professor Sir John Bell subsequently told the BBC that such claims ‘probably killed hundreds of thousands of people’.

The truth is that Macron is afflicted by Brexit Derangement Syndrome and until a vaccine is discovered, expect his Anglophobia to continue.

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Gavin Mortimer is a writer based in Paris.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.