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Macron Alone

Since taking office in 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron has cultivated an image as a champion of the European Union at a time of shifting global power balances and resurgent populism. But his latest diplomatic efforts risk alienating Germany and other key EU players.

WARSAW – You can be talented, handsome, rhetorically skilled, and politically brave, and yet suffer for it. In the long run, prudence and restraint are crucial ingredients of successful leadership, and it is precisely these two qualities that, up to now, French President Emmanuel Macron appears to lack.

Macron wants to lead the European Union into the twenty-first century. But he will succeed only if he does not go too far. If he overplays his hand, he will open himself up to a challenge from some other rising political leader. That could happen whenever Germany emerges from its domestic political malaise, if other member states decide to form a coalition against France, or if Macron alienates too many key players within the EU. The greater Macron’s ambitions, the higher the risk to his political future.

Politically, Macron is a contradiction in terms. A vocal anti-populist who employs populist tools, he has dismissed traditional political parties and called for politicians to be replaced by ordinary people. Accordingly, he insists that his La République En Marche ! is not, in fact, a political party, and that he is neither of the left nor the right. The main difference is that his program is not nationalist but pro-European, almost cosmopolitan, and that he opposes other populists. But his pro-European stance goes only as far as French economic interests allow, as he demonstrated when selecting nominees for the EU’s top jobs earlier this year. 

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