July 25, 2021

French diplomacy and the limits of a solitary exercise

“What is your definition of leadership? “ At the end of September 2020, the meeting between Emmanuel Macron and Lithuanian students was drawing to a close, at Vilnius University, when a young woman questioned the French president. The latter initially praised the risk-taking. “It is proposing new ideas, it is knowing how to tell the truth, it is sometimes moving forward to push, to push. (…) When taking a risk, you have to accept that you are sometimes alone, to break the ice, but then you have to bring others together and bring them to this position. “ Foreign policy conceived as a personal enterprise of transgression-seduction. But does stewardship follow?

In Emmanuel Macron’s international assessment, one question concerns the making-to-know, more than the know-how. The strategic dialogue initiated in August 2019 with Russia, without consultation with the Europeans, was an illustration of this. It is not a question of evoking here the relevance of the orientations or the obvious knowledge of the files, but the driving force, with the other leaders and in the public opinion.

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When you feel misunderstood, it is not necessarily the fault of the audience or of malicious social media. Communication is a profession of high precision, responsiveness and interactions with journalists, which the oratorical ease of a man, even a president and fond of literary quotations, cannot fill. However, the Elysée and the Quai d’Orsay, in a different way, do not integrate communication into politics: they see it as a package or a pipe.

Democratic stake

Neither glass house nor bunker, the State sometimes needs to evolve in secrecy, the gray area. But consider this paradox: a president so young, who originally wanted the company of journalists familiar with international affairs on his travels, and who ultimately preferred to keep them at bay. However, there is an obvious democratic stake in the way in which a State like France, which never shies away from a universalist ambition, educates its orientations in foreign policy.

We can already guess the arguments of the Elysee. The president regularly speaks during trips abroad or at press conferences (in Lebanon, at the end of September 2020, or on June 10 before the G7 and NATO summits). He also gives interviews from time to time, often to the Anglo-Saxon press, such as the one on the ” brain death “ of the Atlantic Alliance (The Economist), in October 2019.

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