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What is really behind the French president’s Brexit speech?

  • Martin Jay
  • 5 Feb 2019

Don’t be fooled by Macron’s recent Blairite-style speech on Brexit. The real losers of Brexit now are not the British, but the French. And Macron knows it.

French President Emmanuel Macron with UK Prime Minister Theresa May ( AFP )

France’s President Emmanuel Macron created a sensation on media platforms recently when he gave a speech, which appeared to be both a formidable slur against the British public and a disingenuous presentation of both France and the EU. 

For many, it might have been seen as a warning to France of things to come in the Brexit crisis and a neat but veiled assurance to France’s fishermen that they have nothing to fear about losing their fishing rights. For others, Macron appeared to be a loser as a sense of panic is inevitably gripping both Paris and Brussels.

It is looking increasingly likely that the UK is going to ask the EU for more time to settle on a Brexit deal, which Macron rightly guessed, would likely take the negotiations past the EU elections in May. And in that delay scenario, the heat is really going to be turned up against Macron and his presidency and indeed the EU project itself, as both fight for their own survival while the odds stack up against them.

For the EU, it is no accident that Macron made this bold speech as Brussels considers him to be a great champion of the project; but top level EU figures must be having sleepless nights over how long the EU as we know it can hold on to power. 

The mention of the EU elections by Macron was no idol reference. The French president knows that these elections held every five years are likely to produce a clear, outright leader in France from Marine Le Pen’s party and possibly even create a powerful voting bloc in the European Parliament itself to take on the two other incumbent groups, the Christian Democrats and the Socialists.  For the first time ever in its short history, the anti-democratic EU looks set to have a recalcitrant ‘opposition’ within its ranks to either reform it or bring it down altogether.

And Macron knows this. He is smart, and he realises that the gamble of Brussels to offer Britain a deal which was essentially a cyanide pill for the British economy, has backfired. 

The idea was that Brexit would be well over before the EU elections, which EU officials know is going to shake the foundations of the project like never before, with the emergence of populist parties. The EU elite was banking on turning to eurosceptic EU members and pointing to the ashes of Britain, post-Brexit, as the ultimate deterrent against the notion of leaving the EU.

As the polls approach, Macron starts to sense doom and failure in the air as his own minor problem of the French economy imploding, starts to irk him, as protests hit their 12th week with no hint of letting up. 

The irony that Brexit Britain is still a top foreign investment location, despite Brexit worries, while France struggles to feed and heat its own people is not lost on the French president. 

Macron probably doesn’t like to think of over-regulation from Brussels of French companies, immigration problems and not being able to freely control monetary policy –controlled by the European Central Bank in Frankfurt – as anything to do with the difficulties he faces in the republic today. 

And if you like your irony in double portions, euro nerds in Brussels will tell you that no country in the history of the EU gets a better deal out of its membership than France. And yet, this EU member giant is struggling to keep the lights on.

The nightmare scenario for both Macron and Brussels officials is that Britain struggles with a no-deal Brexit, but survives. In a matter of months, the French who have traditionally taken their EU membership as something to take for granted will question whether it is really working; a debate will follow of getting out of the euro, if not the EU altogether. 

When that debate starts – and it is likely to start with a massive protest vote against mainstream parties in France at the EU polls in May – Macron and his friends in Brussels both know that this is the beginning of the end of the European Union as we know it. 

This is the real reason why Macron made that impassioned speech. He is preparing for the worst, a scenario where Britain buys all its wine from Australia and all its champagne from California and he has to explain to workers who lost their jobs that it was all the fault of the 'roast beef.'

He talks about the British suffering because 70 percent of what is on their supermarket shelves is from the EU, without noting that, as just one example, fruit could be brought to the UK at a fraction of the price from Morocco – which it can’t at present due to EU rules; other goods could be shipped from Canada and the US. 

He notes that France will not negotiate any new deal on letting Britain have its own waters back, which it held before joining the EU. But in any scenario, would Macron agree to such a deal? Unlikely.

His scare tactics are more about his own doomsday bunker, which he is preparing after the EU elections, rather than the changes that Britain will have to make to endure a hard Brexit. 

The horror movie script of an EU Parliament dictating populist policies against Macron’s governance while the French start to get a different news feed every day from Brussels about the dark side of the EU – the corruption, the waste, the delusional superpower notions and its increasing costs just to keep it going – will kickstart a Frexit debate. 

Macron's endearing little speech will be enshrined in YouTube history as the turning point, in exactly the same way the British press deride David Cameron now for getting an EU referendum entirely wrong. Ooh la la. 

The French have no idea what is coming their way as Macron’s interminable arrogance fuels the fire of rank and file discord and divisive populist policies, while his own presidency races towards the abyss. Marine le Pen, Nigel Farage and Steve Bannon must play that speech over and over again while they hold their sides laughing.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

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