By Omer Ozkizilcik

The French President has found himself out of his depth and Germany has once again shown that it has the upper hand in guiding European Union policy.

Since Brexit, the European Union faces a new reality in which the biggest military power with the closest ties to the United States has left the alliance. In the new dynamics, many feared that the economic motor, Germany, will further dominate the alliance. Similar to the Spartans provoking a war to balance the ever-growing strength of Athens, France under Macron is trying to assert itself with an attempt to dominate the foreign policy of the EU, but ha so far failed miserably due to several miscalculations.

Macron portrays France as the new actor in the region from Libya to Lebanon and now the dispute in the eastern Mediterranean. In an almost Napolitarian fashion, Macron comes out and tries to dominate the discourse by going verbally against the Turkish President Erdogan.

At first, France failed in Libya with its gamble on the warlord Khalifa Haftar and hysterically hurled accusations at Turkey while violating international law itself. With French pressure, the EU came up with Operation IRINI which geographically misses Haftar’s supply routes but targets the supply routes of the UN-recognised Government of National Accord.

In addition to the sophisticated French weaponry in the hands of Haftar, now a recent deal in Libya shows that French banks have given banks in Haftar strongholds in eastern Libya loans worth 40 billion LYD ($29.2 billion).

In Lebanon, Macron’s Neo-Napoleonic policies were on full display again. Macron visited the devastated country after the shocking blast in the Beirut port and in an almost colonial manner promised political change in a country which was a former colonial subject of France. However, until now, no real progress is in sight and the European Union is on the verge of losing critical influence in Lebanon due to Macron’s hasty policies and statements.

These same Neo-Napoleonic policies have reached a peak in the eastern Mediterranean issue. France sent warplanes to the island of Cyprus violating the status quo and risking further escalation in the frozen-conflict, conducted joint military drills with Greece, and stepped up the hostile rhetoric vis-a-vis Turkey.

Enter Germany

But why does France want to be an assertive player in conflict areas around the European Union and why does Macron try to portray himself as a game changer in the EU’s foreign policy? Well, the answer is Germany.

French grievances and hostilities against Germany are old and historic. The European Union was founded based on a French-German balance, but when the Berlin Wall fell and German reunification took place, this balance was lost. It is not surprising that during the pre-reunification period, a representative of French President Francois Mitterrand told an aide to Gorbachev, “France by no means wants German reunification, although it realizes that in the end, it is inevitable.”

Over time, the Germans grew economically and managed to become the strongest economy in Europe and with the economic crisis in southern states like Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, the Germans have managed to position themselves as the main power-broker in the European Union. These developments prompted talks that the European Union has become a German Union.

Although Germany has effectively used its economic strength to dominate the EU, it lacks the military strength, foreign policy knowledge, heritage, and capacity to lead the union. The United Kingdom and France are far superior in these areas – however, Brexit changed that dynamic. One of the two main pillars to balance Germany in the European Union left the alliance.

Within this new environment, French decision-makers were forced to balance the Germans by leading the EU in foreign policy. The Neo-Napoleonic policies of Macron are mainly calculated not against Turkey or any other country, or the personal ambitions of Macron, but towards balancing the ever-more-powerful German Chancellor.

In this manner, France wants to position itself as the only capable power in the European Union to protect its fellow allies regardless of the reasons behind the dispute in the eastern Mediterranean. Macron wants to show that France is capable of delivering in areas where the Germans are not – and recent moves are evidence of this.

Even though Macron is trying to balance Germany with its aggressive and assertive foreign policy vis-a-vis Turkey, France has made a major miscalculation. In contrast to the African continent or countries like Lebanon, it is not France but Germany which has the upper hand in terms of policy, heritage, and the capacity to find a solution with Turkey. Macron’s attempts in the eastern Mediterranean do not have the necessary depth of understanding of Turkish politics and the role of Turkey geopolitically.

Macron came out and claimed that France does not have a problem with the Turkish people but with the Turkish president alone, suggesting that Turkish foreign policy in the eastern Mediterranean is not supported by the broader Turkish public and the Turkish opposition.

In reality, the Turkish opposition not only supports the current policies but even more, the masterminds behind these policies are known as hardcore Kemalists. The Turkish doctrine of Blue Homeland is a product of the Kemalist elites in the Turkish navy and the current Turkish position enjoys full support from the Turkish government and all oppositional parties. Such details are known by Germany, the country with the biggest Turkish population in the world after Turkey, but apparently not by Macron.

In addition to the lack of understanding of Turkey, Macron has miscalculated itself within the European Union as well. Most of the European countries including the Mediterranean states are not in favor of the aggressive attitude put forth by France but favour dialogue with Turkey as suggested by the German Chancellor. Therefore, Macron’s attempt to galvanise its European allies behind itself has led nowhere and his rhetoric has reached its limits.

In short, the Neo-Napoleonic policies of Macron lost to the realpolitik of the Chancellor. The policies of Macron in the Turkish-Greece dispute over maritime delimitation in the eastern Mediterranean and the islands in the Aegean Sea seem to have failed. The summit of Mediterranean states did not result in the way Macron hoped, and the French president seemingly was forced to issue an olive branch towards Turkey via a Tweet posted in the Turkish language.

As this gesture was reciprocated by the Turkish president, realpolitik to seek dialogue with Turkey instead of meaningless escalation over illegitimate maritime delimitation claims seems to be paying off.

Omer Ozkizilcik is an analyst for the SETA Foundation.

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