Two days in Paris between friends?

FRANCE-US-POLITICS-DIPLOMACY

Donald Trump, President of the US, responded positively weeks ago to the invitation of the newly elected French president, Emmanuel Macron, to assist at the military parade of the 14 of July. French public opinion, as well as experts, were certainly divided concerning such invitation and the presence of the American president at this national celebration. Politipond argues that such invitation was aligned with France-US interests and US-Europe interests regardless of the domestic turmoils of Donald Trump and his cabinet. Furthermore, this official visit highlighted a complex divide between the perceptions of the US, as an ally, and the perceptions of the US through the representation of his president. This subtlety was lost in translation.

Logics and reasons

Macron’s invitation has divided experts, public opinion and the media. Politico Europe probably published the article with the most telling title, Trump and Macron go from mano a mano to tête-à-tête  referencing the evolving tone of the relationship between the two men. If Macron demonstrated toughness during their first meetings at the NATO and G-7 summits in May, their third meeting on July 13-14 seemed much warmer. The claim is that Macron strategized his interaction with his American homologue in order to foster respect. Candidate and then President Trump have been consistent, as he has continuously demonstrated considerable respect to strongmen such as Russian president, Vladimir Putin, Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte, and apparently Emmanuel Macron.

Some have compared Macron and Trump as they share some similitudes. Both won outside the party system; Macron created a movement Onward! a year prior the election and managed to undermine the historical supremacy of the right and left by winning the presidential and legislative elections, while Trump running as a republican candidate certainly does not fit within the conventional ideological lines of the party. Both are framed as non-politicians, as having never ran for office. If it is true for Trump, it is not the fully the case for Macron having evolved in the highest political spheres during the Hollande presidency. But the comparison cannot go furthermore. Macron has a certain understanding of politics and the history of the French Fifth Republic as designed and envisioned by Charles de Gaulle in 1958. Macron is carefully crafting a presidential image, under the Jupiterian president aura, through a demonstration of strengthen as he is oftentimes represented surrounded by French military might. If President Sarkozy was seen as the hyperactive president, François Hollande, the ‘normal’ president, Macron is concerned about displaying and embodying French grandeur.

From Paris, especially the Elysée, the message behind this invitation was to commemorate the entry of the US in 1917 in World War one, which plays against the isolationist narrative emanating from the White House. 1917 symbolizes American engagement in the world, while 2017 may illustrate the beginning of a potential American isolationism. The relationship between the two countries is over 200 years old. The French monarchy played an important role in assisting the patriots against the British crown. Benjamin Franklin played a considerable role starting in 1776 in engaging with France, while serving from 1776 to 1778 in a commission in France in charge of getting French support for American independence. France not only recognized American’s independence but as well concluded an alliance with the 13 colonies in 1778. Skipping one century, in 1917 when the Americans joined the war on the European continent, Colonel C. E. Stanton, General John J. Pershing’s aide, famously declared before the tomb of the Marquis Lafayette, ‘Lafayette, we are here!’ This brief historical anecdotes illustrate the deep ties and historical connections between the two countries. The ties go beyond the leader at the time.

Points of Convergence?

The intervention of the two presidents in front of the press lists the series of issues wherein the US and France have shared interests: the Ukrainian crisis, the war in Syria, counter-terrorism, free and ‘fair’ trade, and the sanctity of national sovereignty. Two additional items were on the agenda of the French president. The first one concerned the COP-21 or Paris agreement entered into force Fall 2016 ratified by 153 nations. President Trump announced early on his presidency that the US would withdraw from the binding deal. European leaders, in particular Chancellor Merkel and President Macron, have been adamant about the necessity to meet the goals set-up in order to address the root causes of climate change.

The second item, an unconfirmed point, may be regarding  potential American support to the initiative of the G5 Sahel bloc – Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad -, planning on launching a new multinational military force led by African powers. France has been militarily involved in the Sahel region since 2013 in order to limit the regional influence of Islamist militant group. This new force will operate in coordination with French troops and MINUSMA, Mali’s struggling U.N. peacekeeping mission. Financially, the European Union has pledged around 50 million euros, while France would contribute around 8 million euros by the end of the year. The US have played a role in providing equipments, information and military support to the French. This military effort aligns with the transatlantic counter-terrorist strategy. However, no comments on this point emerged.

Beyond the 14 of July – Perceptions matter

The Franco-American relationship has not deteriorated, but the French positive perception of the US as embodied by President Trump have collapsed over night. The recent Pew research center’s report on global perceptions illustrates clearly the instant changes of attitudes towards the US at the critical juncture of November 2016, the election of Donald Trump.

Global perceptions-1

The graph tells a compelling story of an immediate decline in the positive views of the US in a period of four months dropping by 15 percentage points (pp). The most damaging decline illustrates the confidence in the US presidency, wherein 74% expressed no confidence in President Trump, as opposed to 23% for President Obama.

Global perceptions2

 

This graph provides a global snapshot of the shifting perceptions between Presidents Obama and Trump. The only two countries with positive perceptions are Israel (+7pp) and Russia (+42pp). The rest of the world tends to share a lack of confidence in the American presidency held by Trump. The most critical are Sweden (-83), the Netherlands (-75pp), Germany (-75pp), South Korea (-71pp), and France (-70pp). Concerning the list of European countries above, President Obama had received strong support and a total admiration by Europeans. And this despite serious crises occurring during his mandate such as the Snowden revelations.

The last graph provides a snapshot over a longer period of time of the level of confidence in Western Europe (UK, Germany, France and Spain) in the American leader in power.Global perceptions3

President Bush never received considerable positive reviews from Europe. But the most damaging moment of his presidency, from European point of view, was the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The UK and Spain joined the coalition of the willing, which was not the case for France and Germany. The confidence in the US grew overnight ensuing the election of President Obama in 2008. The Snowden revelations were the lowest point for President Obama and the EU-US relationship during his two mandates. But the persona of Obama was sufficient in maintaining positive perceptions and confidence in the US in Europe. As the confidence ratings climbed overnight in 2008 by ~+60 pp, they dropped by ~60pp.

Trump or Not, the US Remains Central

As advanced in the report, President Trump is perceived, especially in France and Europe, as arrogant, intolerant and dangerous. The data proves that the US-Franco/Europe relations continues to remain strong despite the occasional disagreements. Regardless of the tenant of the White House, the United States remains the indispensable nation figuring at the heart of world affairs and geopolitics. In the case of Europe, the United States is a major contributor and guarantor of European security, through NATO and parallel transatlantic defense and intelligence ties. President of France positions himself as a pragmatist, as declared during his meeting with Vladimir Putin in June. It is in the interest of both countries to maintain strong political, diplomatic and cultural ties. France has a card to play with at this time considering the fraught relationship between the German and American leaders and the ongoing turmoils in the UK. The key for the French leader is to keep a balance between cooperation and independence.

(Copyright 2017 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).
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EUAM Ukraine – Responding to Geostrategic Realities?

Reuters
Reuters

During the G-20 meeting in Brisbane, Australia, Russian President, Vladimir Putin, received a rather cold welcoming from his world counterparts. It appeared that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper among others to have had critical words toward Vladimir Putin. It was even reported that Canadian Prime Minister told Vladimir Putin, “Well, I guess I’ll shake your hand, but I have only one thing to say to you: ‘You need to get out of Ukraine’.” Russian President even left the meeting before the end as he explained, “We still have to get home and be ready for work on Monday. It would be nice to be able to sleep for 4 or 5 hours.” During the last Q&A with the press, Putin claimed that “Ukraine was not discussed in any official context during the G20 discussions. The issue did not come up at all and was not even mentioned.” The G-20 meeting confirmed that the relations between the West and Russia are at one of the lowest since the end of the Cold War.

Decisions by the FAC Meeting

After a rather difficult, or even ‘humiliating‘ G-20 meeting for Vladimir Putin, the Russian President is now waiting to see what the EU and its Member States are willing to do in order to tackle the Ukrainian crisis (see here a previous analysis on the topic). On November 17th, the EU-28 met during a Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) in order to discuss the Ukrainian situation among others. HR/VP Mogherini was presiding the FAC, for the first time as the HR, principally focusing on the situation in Ukraine. The conclusions reached by the FAC are once again minimal. The United Kingdom, Poland and the Baltic states were pushing for tougher rhetorics in order to denounce Russian violations in Ukraine. As explained by Mogherini ensuing the FAC meeting, “a major EU political role on the way to find effective means to have a political solution to the crisis, engaging in dialogue with Russia.” Four dimensions were discussed during the Council meeting:

  • first, reaffirming EU’s support for the Minsk Protocol and Memorandums (pushed by France, the Benelux countries, and Finland);
  • second, underscoring the importance of the formation of the new government following the national parliamentary elections of October 26th;
  • third, eventual sanctions targeting Ukrainian separatists, possibly agreed next month. But according to German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, stricter sanctions are not currently on the table;
  • fourth, the launch on December 1st of the EU Advisory Mission for Civilian Security Sector Reform Ukraine (EUAM Ukraine).

EUAM Ukraine – The latest CSDP mission

Source: EEAS
Source: EEAS

The EUAM Ukraine, or the latest Common Security and Defense Policy mission, will be launched on December 1st, 2014. EUAM Ukraine is a civilian, or unarmed, non-executive civilian mission. EUAM was created on July 22nd, 2014 and is led by Kálmán Mizsei, appointed on the 24th of July. From its initial creation on July 22nd to November 30th, EUAM received a €2.68 million for the start-up of the mission. More recently, the Council has allocated a budget of € 13.1m for the first 12 months of the mission’s two-year mandate starting on the 1st of December. The mission of EUAM Ukraine consists in assisting “the Ukrainian authorities in the field of civilian security sector reform, including police and rule of law.” So far, there is no indication of the size of the EUAM.

In the aftermath of its establishment in July, former HR/VP Ashton declared:

“The Ukrainian Authorities have embarked on the critical path of civilian security sector reform and have requested the support of the European Union. The EU is deploying this mission to assist Ukraine in this reform, including police and the rule of law. It will provide strategic advice for the development of effective, sustainable and accountable security services that contribute to strengthening the rule of law in Ukraine, for the benefit of all Ukrainian citizens throughout the country.”
 

Several months later, newly appointed HR/VP Mogherini announced that

“Responding to a request from Ukraine, the EU advisory mission will assist in the reform of the Ukrainian civilian security sector, including police and civilian security services, public prosecution and the courts. EU experts will work for efficient, trusted civilian security institutions under democratic control. Like the Association Agreement, the Status of  Mission Agreement is a further sign of our joint efforts for a genuine reform process for Ukraine.”
 

The Status of Mission Agreement (SOMA) has already been signed between the HR/VP Mogherini and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, permitting an immediate launch of the operation on the 1st of December. Despite a small budget, the EUAM mandate and mission is enormous. EUAM is supposed to advise on a reform strategy over the civilian security sectors, including the police and the rule of law, and oversee its implementation. In a report produced by Bruxelles2, Nicolas Gros-Verheyde underscored the degree of challenges in creating and implementing the rule of law in Ukraine in a two-year period considering the level of corruption, the nature of the police forces – an historically politicized and militarized instrument -, and reaffirming the power of a centralized government – as some regions are under militia control -.

The implementation and deployment of EUAM Ukraine is a positive note for the EU as its represent a certain willingness to act in Ukraine aside the OSCE. Unfortunately, EUAM Ukraine does not address the root cause of the current tension in Ukraine, Russia. Even though, European leaders have talked tough in Australia, they are still not addressing the real problem represented by Russia. In her recent op-ed, Judy Dempsey underscored how Chancellor Merkel perceives Russia as the main threat to Europe’ security and her continuous interaction with her Russian counterpart as she does not trust him.

Following the G-20 meeting, Chancellor Merkel made some comments about the Ukrainian crisis, saying “suddenly we are confronted with a conflict which goes to the center of our values, so to speak. Now we can’t hold speeches at commemorations. Now we have to show what we have learned from all this.” Chancellor Merkel was clear on advancing the need for Europe to stop the talking and finally start behaving as a regional power. Additionally, Dempsey wrote that “The recent bout of Western sanctions against Russia have shown how the diplomatic path is not working. That is all the more reason for European leaders to accept the changing geostrategic realities.” Once again, EUAM illustrates the gap between between the rhetorics and the actions.

The Use of Economic Power to Asserting Europe’s Power?

To some degree EUAM Ukraine can be compared, in terms of strategic choice, to the failed EU mission in Afghanistan, EUPOL-A, trying to reform the Afghan National Police (ANP) in wartime. Despite, American and Western military presence, the EU was unable to perform such complex and lengthy process considering the security challenges in Afghanistan among other reasons. In Ukraine, wherein combats are taking place in the Eastern part of the country, wherein Russian presence and influence is undeniable, how can the EU be successful at reforming the civilian security sector in two years. Not significant reforms can be implemented until the borders are secure, the political situation of Eastern part of Ukraine is settled, and the central government of Ukraine is legitimate all around the country. EUAM Ukraine should be launched once the status of Ukraine is settled and Russian influence minimized, not before.

Right now, the EU ought to address the military threat represented by Russia on the European continent against Ukraine and some EU Member States. The EU and its Member States are not committed to use hard power, so they will need to increase the economic sanctions against Russia. EUAM does not respond to the geostrategic realities in Europe, deeper and stricter economic sanctions would finally demonstrate EU commitment to enforcing its influence and responding to Russian actions. The EU has demonstrated that it is not and does not want to become a military power in order to assert its influence and power, its economic engine and market may be the instrument to do so. “Merkel believes that German industry, and Europe as a whole,” argued Dempsey, “must be willing to pay the price for Putin’s violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.” History has demonstrated that there is always a cost to pay in order to assure one’s security. The EU feels that by adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach, the security threat embodied by Russia will eventually disappear. The battle over Ukraine may be a bigger fight about the future of geopolitics and peace on the European continent.

(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).