France is leading the way for the disintegration of the EU

What can be concluded after one reads this article published in The Daily Telegraph is that France is leading the way for the disintegration of the EU. Like Germany, France is looking inwards, more to its interests than Europe’s. It is a country divided by those who want to resuscitate the old 19th-century alliance with Russia, which helped France out of isolation in the 19th century. Nevertheless, then, some want France to be more aligned with Nato. The President is adopting the middle way, trying to re-establish the lost French grandeur. However, will he succeed? It is unclear whether France will achieve this goal even though President Macron is increasing military spending. What is certain is that this decision will continue to distance France from its allies in the EU. It is another message that France is looking inward to protect its interest rather than supporting what the Europeanists consider the collective good.

On paper, it looked like the wake-up call of the Ukraine-Russia war had finally been heard at the Élysée Palace. France’s new Loi de Programmation Militaire (the 2024-2030 military budget), which the National Assembly will be debating (and amending) until the end of next week, was, we were told, “unprecedented”. It provides for €413 billion for the next six years, a nominal 40 per cent rise in France’s defence budget.

The law looks like it finally provides for long hoped-for new toys. A new nuclear-powered aircraft carrier will replace the Charles de Gaulle, a 30-year-old white elephant plagued by technical troubles practically from inception. Five billion euros should go to drones. Ditto more military satellites; ditto cyber warfare.

But look at delivery dates (2035 at the earliest for the new carrier); look at what’s not there, or where there is less of it compared with the previous 2019 Loi (137 Rafale fighter jets when the old goal was 185; 35 Airbus A400M heavy transport planes instead of 50; only 160 Leclerc tanks due for an upgrade instead of a previous 200 goal – those very tanks belonging to the same category as the German Leopards that France stopped producing a decade ago). On both sides of the aisle, Républicain and Socialist MPs alike have protested against the actual choices the Bill makes.

Fewer tanks, fewer planes, it’s as if Emmanuel Macron – whom the Constitution of the Fifth Republic designates as Le Chef des Armées – has learnt no military lessons from the new face of war in Europe. France has always viewed itself as a world power, with territories on all six continents. Now Le Président’s grand design is boosting defence spending on space, cyber and oceans, while living for several years with less not more of the hardware and ordnance currently deciding the fate of Europe’s Eastern flank.

Will these choices turn out to be France’s new Maginot Line? The great historian and adviser to governments from Warsaw to Washington, Edward Luttwak – whom I was lucky enough to hear give a stellar presentation at the Danube Institute think tank in Budapest – made again and again the point that war in the 21st century has turned out to be about artillery, boots on the ground, tanks and air cover. And it will be for a long, long time to come.

Some experts disagree. Fascinatingly, however, France, torn between an ideal vision of its world role and the sharp wall of reality, seems to be preparing for yesterday’s war.

There is more than simple delusion in this: in a country where too many see themselves as subtle Talleyrands, too few as Maréchal Fochs (“My centre line has given ground, my right retreats, the situation is excellent, I attack!”), there is always the inclination to project a diplomatic future in which conciliation will ultimately have to be reached (hence the recurrent “we must not humiliate Russia” line from some of France’s political and diplomatic elite).

The French also arguably put too much store by their nuclear deterrent. It is not only the weapon of a Great Power, establishing you in the exclusive club of nations that have to be paid attention to; it has also been, since the 1960s, a vote-getter among larger swathes of the electorate than you’d expect, from sections of the hard-Left to the sovereignist chunk of every conservative party from the Républicains to the Le Pen and Zemmour Right.

And even there, Macron inflicted an own goal to that beloved token of grandeur late last year when, during one of the prime-time television interviews he likes giving to suitably respectful presenters, he answered a question on a possible tactical nuclear strike on Ukraine by rejecting the idea that France would retaliate with her nuclear capacity. To alarmed top Nato officials, Élysée advisers suggested that France would use nukes “only in defence of vital French interests”, “depending on context”, and “only if the President decided it”.

The whole incident has officially blown over; but if you wondered why a France-led “European Strategic Autonomy” project is less than popular among our allies, look no further. Learning now that France – seemingly unconcerned with their priorities and immediate threats – has in effect made it impossible to have enough tanks and planes to lend to her Nato allies will not help change that view.

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