The French president is making overtures to present Paris as an alternative global power, which can challenge Washington’s leadership, angering countries from the US to Germany and Turkey.
Ahead of the NATO summit on December 3-4, which also marks 70 years of the world’s most enduring military alliance, French President Emmanuel Macron made a series of comments that revealed a number of divisions among the alliance.
At the summit, Macron, who previously argued that the alliance is “brain dead,” has continued to make comments in a similar vein, saying that he stands by his words, angering US President Donald Trump, who has found them “very insulting” and a “very, very nasty statement essentially to 28 countries” referring to the rest of NATO’s members.
Macron’s assertiveness before and during the summit surprised a few as the young leader seems to want to stamp France’s authority in Europe, which has been exhausted by quarrels among the EU partners as Germany’s most influential leader is on her way out and Britain is preoccupied by Brexit.
“President Macron is seizing that moment, seeking to be disruptive in his own way, and so we will see how that works,” Heather A. Conley, Director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told The New York Times.
“He’s increasingly isolating himself within Europe,” Conley said of Macron’s bold words.
As Macron casts doubts on NATO, he has been thinking out loud about his plans for a European Union army to replace the organisation.
“Since I took office I’ve championed the notion of European military and technological sovereignty,” Macron said in an Economist interview.
“So I think the first thing to do is to regain military sovereignty. I pushed European defence issues to the forefront as soon as I took office, at the European level, at the Franco-German level,” Macron insisted.
His German partner, Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is set to leave politics in 2021 and left her party’s leadership post last year, is not so sure about Macron’s strategy.
She criticised Macron’s “brain dead” comment as “sweeping judgments” and found them unnecessary under current circumstances.
Ahead of the summit, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded to Macron’s criticism of Turkey’s operation in northern Syria targeting the YPG, the Syrian wing of the PKK. The PKK is recognised as a terrorist organisation by NATO, the EU, the US and Turkey.
The US and France have partnered and supported the YPG in their efforts to Daesh in Syria.
“You have an uncoordinated aggressive action by another NATO ally, Turkey, in an area where our interests are at stake,” Macron told the Economist before the summit.
Erdogan responded with: “What is your business in Syria?
Jump up and down as much as you like ... you will respect Turkey’s right to fighting against terrorism sooner or later. There is no other way.”
Relations between France and the PKK have a long history going back to the 1980s and 1990s when the late Danielle Mitterrand, the wife of former French president Francois Mitterrand, publicly voiced her support for Abdullah Ocalan, the terrorist group’s founding leader, who has been in prison in Turkey since 1999.
“You know how to show off but you cannot even properly pay for NATO. You are a novice,” the Turkish president said of Macron’s NATO commitments, touching on the issue of defence spending among the NATO allies.
Turkey contributes a greater share of defence spending with respect to its GDP than France. The latest numbers show that Ankara spends 1.89 percent expenditure toward its GDP while France allocated 1.84 percent of its GDP to the NATO budget.
Trump has previously accused NATO partners of not accepting their share of the NATO financing burden, which the US has demanded should be at least two percent of their GDP.
Turkey has recently increased its defence spending significantly to keep in line with NATO defence spending requirements.