French President Emmanuel Macron wants to be accompanied through 2020 by the legendary General and President #Charles_de_Gaulle. That is somehow obvious, after all, the anniversary of his death will be celebrated for the 50th time next autumn on November 9. We can look forward to great state theatre à la française.
Yet did the civilian successor, the grandson of the General, therefore have to start the first weeks of the year of remembrance with a sensational revival of the French nuclear strategy? First on February 7 in front of France’s senior military officers in the Ecole militaire, and then again on the 15th of the month at the Munich Security Conference?
Macron’s “brain death of #NATO” is ringing in everyone’s ears
And all this as an echo to his thunderous diagnosis of NATO’s brain death, in an interview with The Economist on the eve of the NATO summit in London, November 2019?
Confusion, surprise, anger have been and still are the reactions to Macron’s words in Brussels and Berlin, Warsaw or The Hague. Wasn’t it there again, they murmured from all corners of Europe, this well-known arrogance of the nuclear power France?
Didn’t this again suggest the striving for “grandeur“, as it is described in the two biographies by Johannes Willms and James Jackson, both worth reading and considering – of course not of Macron, but of de Gaulle and his “certain idea of France”, “une certaine idèe de la France“?
Macron in front of the “Memories” of the General – what a picture!
Just to remind you: the official portrait photo of June 2017, which today hangs in every French town hall, shows the young president in the Elysée Palace. He is casually leaning in front of his desk, the tricolour on the left of the viewer, the European flag on the right, and on the table two smartphones, an old grandfather clock, an inkwell with the national symbol, the rooster, and – an opened copy of Charles de Gaulle’s memoirs.
It is with such over-discreet hints that (not only) French presidents like to adorn themselves. Thus, history is called upon and the future is proclaimed. “C’est le président-littéraire-maître-du-temps-connecté-à-son-époque,” the Parisian newspaper Le Figaro mocked Macron’s self-staging at the time: literary like the inkwell, contemporary like the smartphones, and master of his time like the gilded grandfather clock that strikes the hour for his ministers every Wednesday.
Playing with symbols, that’s all it is. Or is it?
Yet enough of playing with symbols. Macron is not de Gaulle. This president dreams of and preaches a “sovereign Europe”, an “authentically European dimension” of his ideas of a French nuclear power in a very troubled century. The man is not living in the past but today and is striving for tomorrow – and is therefore not, as a close associate once said about the General, “a man of the day before yesterday and the day after tomorrow”.
France’s partners should rather stick to the wording
His European partners would therefore better be served by measuring Macron by his words rather than by his recollection of a general who literally came from nowhere and stood in front of nothingness. His country was in German hands, he himself a London exile without battalions, a lonely strategist who undoubtedly made history, above all, thanks to his rhetoric – in the “age of extremes” (Eric Hobsbawm) of the last century.
France’s president by no means proposed to divide the decision on the deployment of the French nuclear weapon: he spoke of a “strategic dialogue” among Europeans, taking into account the “force de frappe“. He also recalled that France had already disarmed nuclear weapons.
Macron’s idea of France is firmly embedded in Europe
Moreover, so much for de Gaulle, Macron did indeed recall his speech of November 3, 1959, when that president announced the “force de frappe” – but tacitly ignored the fact that the Fourth Republic (rejected by the general) had already planned nuclear armament during the Cold War.
Sometimes symbolic references are more attractive than historical justifications. Macron is only a successor to the first President of the Fifth Republic. He, too, may have “une certaine idée de la France“, yet it is not Gaullist, but contemporary and firmly embedded in his idea of Europe. This is President Macron’s “certaine vision du monde“.