A Tale of Two Macrons
The Last President of Europe, written by William Drozdiak is a very passionately written and good overview of Emmanuel Macron’s first three years as President of the French Republic.
Drozdiak’s book does a very good job of addressing a complex domestic and international situation with a President that has many aspirations for both his own nation and the wider European community.
Drozdiak lays out Macron’s personality as a political figure that has two sides: a king in his castle as well as a man who admits fault and realizes the mistakes he has made.
Macron is painted as both a man of the people and a man that is disconnected to the realities of the working class, two distinct personalities.
Macron and France’s Domestic Challenges
In the first part of the book, Drozdiak lays out the domestic challenges quite well. For an audience that might not be aware of the intricacies of French government, it does a good job of providing context and organizing the complexities that Macron is faced with on the domestic front.
Drozdiak presents Macron’s “grand strategy” as one with “three goals in mind”: “to modernize France, to relaunch the drive toward a more unified continent, and to establish Europe as a major power in a multipolar world.” (p. 5)
Yet, his tunnel vision in establishing a reformed France led him to be shocked by the push back he received from his constituents.
One of the largest issues plaguing the Macron administration was the Gilets Jaunes movement, in the early stages of the protests public support for them was “holding firm at 70 percent.” Drozdiak takes great care in displaying the change that Macron underwent, “gone was the regal arrogance that so annoyed his many critics… he sounded apologetic and acknowledged that he had committed mistakes during the first two years of his presidency.” (p. 38)
The author claims the solution to Macron’s issues were solved by the Grand Debate, where constituents would “help shape a National Debate” and have a direct voice in the decision-making process (p. 45).
Drozdiak is quick to dismiss the criticism of this time dubbed “The Great Blah Blah” and ends his chapter with the statement: “The Grand National Debate also extricated Macron from his gloomy isolation inside the Elysee Palace and put him back in touch with the people in a way that would energize him for act two of his presidency.” (p. 46)
Macron and France’s European and Global Policies
In the second half of his book, Drozdiak places Macron on the international stage: the populist menace, Germany, Russia, the U.S. and China as his main challengers throughout his presidency.
The author sets up a scene to make it very clear that Macron clearly fits the title of the “Last President of Europe,” the only one who believes in a united and strong Europe.
Drozdiak does address the unfeasibility of some of Macron’s initiatives and reports the frustrations that European leaders have with Macron’s long list of reforms.
Yet, Drozdiak paints Macron to be a man ahead of his time through the use of grandiose quotes and philosophic moments where he has reflected on his time as president: “as he struggles in lonely isolation to push Europe forward, Macron is often reminded of Jean Monnet’s clarion warning that ‘as long as Europe remains divided, it will be weak and a constant source of conflict.’” (p. 213)
While Macron is certainly one of the only European leaders to be pushing an image of such an integrated and connected Europe, it is bold to assume that he is “the last president of Europe” because of it.
Many other European leaders believe in the European project and have clearly articulated this, their visions for Europe differ because they must be realistic in what they can achieve.
Macron is pushing for a Europe that no longer aspires to be just a “community of values” but one with clear intentions as a political project.
Macron claims that leaders who believe Europe should solely be an economic power rather than attempt to play into great power politics is a belief that is naïve to the world.
He claims that “this view would enable outside power to exploit Europe’s internal divisions, as has occurred with China.” (p. 211)
While one must agree that if Europe does not develop a global strategy it will suffer, Brussels must also come to agreement on its own internal strategy with a common vision.
If it decides to remain as political as it has become, increasingly encroaching on national governments, then it must take this responsibility for this role and not act like it is this ominous presence that believes to be holier than thou.
And What About the COVID-19 Impact?
The Last President of Europe is a book published in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.
The pandemic would have been an interesting chapter to both the domestic and international challenges Macron and his administration have faced. In a discussion with the author on April 22nd, in a webinar hosted by The Brookings Institution, this crisis was discussed in detail.1
Drozdiak addressed Macron’s concerns of being in a “race against time” and believed that the next crisis Europe would face would be larger than the Eurozone crisis that plagued Europe in 2010.
While Macron could not have known that COVID-19 would be the challenge faced, the crisis is here, and it is testing international cooperation and internal European unity.
While many have doomed the European Union to unravel, especially after seeing the divisions among the EU countries in response to the pandemic, the recovery and aftermath of COVID-19 may be a place for hope, if European nations can act to achieve damage control.
The Brookings Webinar:Europe’s Future?
A question posed in the webinar hosted by Brookings was whether or not the COVID crisis is the first crisis faced by Europe in a post-America world.
The transatlantic crisis is one that must come to an end, the United States and Europe are stronger together than apart.
The tit for tat measures must stop, the EU should think very hard about who their allies are in fighting the very real threats that are posed by populist uprisings, illiberal democracies, international pandemics—the list, unfortunately, does not stop there.
When European Commissioner, Ursula Van Der Leyen decides to thank China for the masks (later to be found defective2 or the EU collectively decides to trust China by letting them into the European Union and keeping the United States off of that list 3 they send a message that does not bode future unity, within the EU itself as well as internationally.
“The Last President of Europe” has more to add to his “To-Do” list before his dreams are to become a reality.