Emmanuel Macron’s urgent message for Europe: Exclusive interview with ‘The Economist’

The French president issues a dark and prophetic warning

In 1940, after France had been defeated by the Nazi blitzkrieg, the historian Marc Bloch condemned his country’s inter-war elites for having failed to face up to the threat that lay ahead. Today Emmanuel Macron cites Bloch as a warning that Europe’s elites are gripped by the same fatal complacency.

France’s president set out his apocalyptic vision in an interview with The Economistin the Elysée Palace. It came days after his delivery of a big speech about the future of Europe—an unruly, two-hour, Castro-scale marathon, ranging from nuclear annihilation to an alliance of European libraries. Mr Macron’s critics called it a mix of electioneering, the usual French self-interest and the intellectual vanity of a Jupiterian president thinking about his legacy.

We wish they were right. In fact, Mr Macron’s message is as compelling as it is alarming. In our interview, he warned that Europe faces imminent danger, declaring that “things can fall apart very quickly”. He also spoke of the mountain of work ahead to make Europe safe. But he is bedevilled by unpopularity at home and poor relations with Germany. Like other gloomy visionaries, he faces the risk that his message is ignored.

The driving force behind Mr Macron’s warning is the invasion of Ukraine. War has changed Russia. Flouting international law, issuing nuclear threats, investing heavily in arms and hybrid tactics, it has embraced “aggression in all known domains of conflict”. Now Russia knows no limits, he argues. Moldova, Lithuania, Poland, Romania or any neighbouring country could all be its targets. If it wins in Ukraine, European security will lie in ruins.

Europe must wake up to this new danger. Mr Macron refuses to back down from his declaration in February that Europe should not rule out putting troops in Ukraine. This elicited horror and fury from some of his allies, but he insists their wariness will only encourage Russia to press on: “We have undoubtedly been too hesitant by defining the limits of our action to someone who no longer has any and who is the aggressor.”

Mr Macron is adamant that, whoever is in the White House in 2025, Europe must shake off its decades-long military dependence on America and with it the head-in-the-sand reluctance to take hard power seriously. “My responsibility,” he says, “is never to put [America] in a strategic dilemma that would mean choosing between Europeans and [its] own interests in the face of China.” He calls for an “existential” debate to take place within months. Bringing in non-eu countries like Britain and Norway, this would create a new framework for European defence that puts less of a burden on America. He is willing to discuss extending the protection afforded by France’s nuclear weapons, which would dramatically break from Gaullist orthodoxy and transform France’s relations with the rest of Europe.

Mr Macron’s second theme is that an alarming industrial gap has opened up as Europe has fallen behind America and China. For Mr Macron, this is part of a broader dependence in energy and technology, especially in renewables and artificial intelligence. Europe must respond now, or it may never catch up. He says the Americans “have stopped trying to get the Chinese to conform to the rules of international trade”. Calling the Inflation Reduction Act “a conceptual revolution”, he accuses America of being like China by subsidising its critical industries. “You can’t carry on as if this isn’t happening,” he says.

Mr Macron’s solution is more radical than simply asking for Europe to match American and Chinese subsidies and protection. He also wants a profound change to the way Europe works. He would double research spending, deregulate industry, free up capital markets and sharpen Europeans’ appetite for risk. He is scathing about the dishing-out of subsidies and contracts so that each country gets back more or less what it puts in. Europe needs specialisation and scale, even if some countries lose out, he says.

Voters sense that European security and competitiveness are vulnerable. And that leads to Mr Macron’s third theme, which is the frailty of Europe’s politics. France’s president reserves special contempt for populist nationalists. Though he did not name her, one of those is Marine Le Pen, who has ambitions to replace him in 2027. In a cut-throat world their empty promises to strengthen their own countries will instead result in division, decline, insecurity and, ultimately, conflict.

Mr Macron’s ideas have real power, and he has proved prescient in the past. But his solutions pose problems. One danger is that they might in fact undermine Europe’s security. His plans could distance America, but fail to fill the gap with a credible European alternative. That would leave Europe more vulnerable to Russia’s predations. It would also suit China, which has long sought to deal with Europe and America separately, not as an alliance.

His plans could also fall victim to the unwieldy structure of the eu itself. They require 27 power-hungry governments to cede sovereign control of taxation and foreign policy and to give more influence to the European Commission, which seems unlikely. If Mr Macron’s industrial policy ends up bringing more subsidy and protection, but not deregulation, liberalisation and competition, it would weigh on the very dynamism he is trying to enhance.

And the last problem is that Mr Macron may well fail in his politics—partly because he is unpopular at home. He preaches the need to think Europe-wide and leave behind petty nationalism, but France has for years blocked the construction of power connections with Spain. He warns of the looming threat of Ms Le Pen, but has so far failed to nurture a successor who can see her off. He cannot tackle an agenda that would have taxed the two great post-war leaders, Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer, without the help of Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz. Yet their relationship is dreadful.

Mr Macron is clearer about the perils Europe is facing than the leader of any other large country. When leadership is in short supply, he has the courage to look history in the eye. The tragedy for Europe is that the words of France’s Cassandra may well fall on deaf ears. ■

Editor’s note: The interview was conducted at the Elysée Palace in Paris on April 29th. The French transcript has been lightly edited for clarity. This English translation was done by The Economist

The Economist: In your speech at the Sorbonne, you said that “Europe can die”. What does that actually mean? What is at stake?

President Macron: I was referring to Paul Valéry’s words after the First World War about the fact that we now know that a civilisation can die. Firstly, because we have a military and geopolitical risk, a security risk. Europe is not the safest region in the world, even though the continent has a model of armed forces that is now solid, comprehensive and effective, such as the French army. However, when we look at Europe as a whole, we see that it has invested far less in its defence and security than the United States or China, and that it finds itself in a global environment where proliferation is making a comeback: Russia, but also Iran and other powers. And not only is high-intensity warfare returning to European soil, but it is being waged by a nuclear-armed power with belligerent rhetoric. All this means that Europe must legitimately ask itself the question of its military protection. And indeed, it must prepare itself to no longer enjoy the same protection from the United States of America, as I said back in 2019 in your columns. We have to get ready to protect ourselves.

Secondly, the challenge for Europe is economic and technological. There can be no great power without economic prosperity, nor without energy and technological sovereignty. We saw this at the start of this war of aggression, when the European production model depended heavily on Russian gas, less so for France than for others. So we need to build up our sovereignty, our strategic autonomy, our independence in terms of energy, materials and rare resources, but also in terms of key skills and technologies. And we have begun this wake-up. We have contributed a lot to it in recent years, but today we have not gone all the way. We need to be even more powerful, stronger, more radical. Added to this is the fact that Europe does not produce enough wealth per capita, compared with other major powers, and our great ambition, at a time when the factors of production are being reallocated, whether in clean tech or artificial intelligence, is to be an attractive continent for these major investments. Our ambition is to ensure that these disruptive technologies do not first develop in other regions, either because they are very well subsidised and encouraged, as in the United States and because of massive investment in ai, or because the factors of production are much cheaper there, as in the United States or China.

Thirdly, Europe is affected by this crisis of democracies. We are the continent that invented liberal democracy. Our social systems are based on these rules. Yet we are being hit by the vulnerabilities created by social networks and the digitalisation of our societies and the way democracy works. Democratic vulnerability, particularly at election time, which feeds this sort of anti-liberal, or illiberal as we say now, impulse. Vulnerability because our young people are exposed to the misuse of screens and digital technology and our societies are transformed because of this misuse.

It’s this triple existential risk for our Europe: a military and security risk; an economic risk for our prosperity; an existential risk of internal incoherence and disruption to the functioning of our democracies. So these are the three risks that have accelerated in recent years, very strongly no doubt.  Moreover, after the pandemic, we underestimated these tensions, even though Europe began to respond to them, but too timidly or sometimes a little too late.

The Economist: You speak about these forces that are gathering. Do they lead to a gradual death? Or a sudden death?

Emmanuel Macron: Things can fall apart very quickly. In Europe and everywhere else, they are creating a rise in anger and resentment. Our compatriots feel it. It feeds fear, anger and that feeds the extremes. Things can happen much more quickly than we think and can lead to a more brutal death than we imagine. What I’m most interested in is warding off this movement and showing that a leap forward is possible. In fact, all the decisions that we’ve taken in recent years are decisions we didn’t take ten years ago. We’ve reacted faster, better and in the right direction. But there’s such an acceleration of risks, threats, the malaise of our societies, that we now need to take a far greater step. Basically, we need to build a new paradigm. A new geopolitical, economic and societal paradigm for Europe.

The Economist: Let’s go back to each of these risks, starting with the geopolitical threat to our continent: Russia. How would you characterise the risk? Is it of a new aggression by Russia? And how should we respond in that case?

Emmanuel Macron: Russia is a threat that we know, that we have always seen. I’m speaking for all Europeans and particularly for Germany and France, because we were responsible for saving the Minsk agreements and the Normandy process. We were right to take the diplomatic route. I have no regrets about what was done during all those years. These steps undoubtedly slowed things down and also enabled us to build joint European demands with regard to Putin. A power of peace, power of balance. The change that has taken place is that Russia has changed, and we have had to adapt to it. Russia has made choices. It made a choice in 2014, but it was a limited event. But above all, it made a radical choice on a completely different scale in February 2022, that of completely changing the logic, in other words, of abandoning respect for international law and participation in international forums. Since 2022, Vladimir Putin has not himself set foot in a G20 summit, and he was excluded from the G8, which became the G7 in 2014. It has decided to break international law by violating the internationally recognised borders of a permanent member of the Security Council. To this extent, and with such consistency, it’s unprecedented. It has also committed war crimes, again with unprecedented force. It is the one that launched this war of aggression against a sovereign country on European soil.

The shift should not be underestimated either. On the question of the oblasts, Russia tried to construct a kind of legal screen, which was then abandoned. Many people have underestimated the shift that took place between February and April 2022. In February, Russia was still trying to formulate a narrative that would be compatible with international law, with this idea of a “special operation”. Now Russia itself uses the word “war” and acknowledges it. It has broken all the frameworks and has basically returned to a logic of total war.

Since 2022, Russia has increasingly added an explicit, sometimes uninhibited, nuclear threat, as voiced by President Putin himself, and has done so systematically. It has added hybridity, provoking and fuelling conflicts that were sometimes latent in other zones. It has added aggressions and threats in space and at sea, and it has added cyber and information threats and attacks on an unprecedented scale, which we have decided, together with our European partners, to reveal for the first time. Today, Russia has become an over-equipped power that continues to invest massively in weapons of all kinds and that has adopted a posture of non-compliance with international law, of territorial aggression and of aggression in all known domains of conflict. Today it is also a power of regional destabilisation wherever it can be. And so yes, Russia, through its behaviour and its choices, has become a threat to Europeans’ security. Despite all the efforts made by France, but also by Germany and the United States.

The Economist: What is the time frame? What happens if Russia tries to attack another country that is not a member of nato? Will we Europeans, nato members, react?

Emmanuel Macron: Each time we have to do so according to the circumstances.The case arose in Ukraine, a country that is not a member of nato, but is on European soil, 1,500 kilometres from our borders. In another unprecedented move, the Europeans reacted within 24 hours, meeting on the very day of the invasion. France held the presidency [of the eu Council] at the time. We immediately imposed sanctions and decided on the principle of supporting Ukraine. Then, in the space of a few months, we took increasingly tough decisions. First, we delivered tanks, then medium and long-range missiles to protect and target Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory, we also delivered air-defence equipment. And we decided to open up a path for Ukraine towards nato and the European Union. So we’ve already made massive progress, providing unprecedented assistance to a country that is not a member of nato, because it is under attack and because our security is at stake.

Added to this is what we decided on February 26th with all the heads of state and government, the 20 or so who were here, Europeans and non-Europeans, here in Paris, and which has been followed by action. I welcome today the very strong commitment, in particular of the Canadians and the Americans, alongside the British and the members of the eu. Together, we have decided to go even further, in other words, to manufacture in Ukraine, to train in Ukraine, to better protect the borders of Belarus and Moldova, and also to have maintenance carried out on Ukrainian soil. We have also created new coalitions, such as the one on medium-range missiles, which has already produced initial results with superior capabilities, and the deliveries that we will be making by the summer. What I also wanted to reopen on February 26th was this famous strategic ambiguity, which should convince Putin that we are determined and that he will have to count on our determination.

The Economist: Do you stand by what you said about possibly sending ground troops to Ukraine?

Emmanuel Macron: Absolutely. As I said, I’m not ruling anything out, because we are facing someone who is not ruling anything out. We have undoubtedly been too hesitant by defining the limits of our action to someone who no longer has any and who is the aggressor! Our capacity is to be credible, to continue to help, to give Ukraine the means to resist. But our credibility also depends on a capacity to deter by not giving full visibility as to what we will or will not do. Otherwise we weaken ourselves, which is the framework within which we have been operating until now. In fact, many countries said that in the weeks that followed that they understood our approach, that they agreed with our position and that this position was a good thing. I have a clear strategic objective: Russia cannot win in Ukraine. If Russia wins in Ukraine, there will be no security in Europe. Who can pretend that Russia will stop there? What security will there be for the other neighbouring countries, Moldova, Romania, Poland, Lithuania and the others? And behind that, what credibility for Europeans who would have spent billions, said that the survival of the continent was at stake and not have given themselves the means to stop Russia? So yes, we mustn’t rule anything out because our objective is that Russia must never be able to win in Ukraine.

The Economist: Do you think that other leaders will end up having to share your position on this if Russia is finally to be deterred?

Emmanuel Macron: You should never engage in political fiction. But I am convinced of one thing, and that is that this is the basic condition for European security and military credibility. So if Russia decided to go further, we will in any case all have to ask ourselves this question. That’s why I wanted this strategic wake-up call for my counterparts, but also for our nations. France is a country that has carried out military interventions, including in recent times. We deployed several thousand troops in the Sahel to fight terrorism, which could have posed a threat to us. We did so at the request of sovereign states. If the Russians were to break through the front lines, if there were a Ukrainian request—which is not the case today—we would legitimately have to ask ourselves this question. So I think to rule it out a priori is not to learn the lessons of the past two years. At the nato summit in the summer of 2022, we all ruled out the delivery of tanks, deep-strike missiles, aircraft. We are now all in the process of doing this, so it would be wrong to rule out the rest. But above all, it would be wrong in terms of credibility and deterrence vis-à-vis the Russians to rule it out. I note, by the way, that the aggressiveness of the Russian response to what I said showed that this was having the desired effect, which was to say: Don’t think that we will stop here if you don’t stop.

The Economist: Other European leaders seem to have lost their understanding of the importance of hard power in the world. Is that due to infantilisation? Because they outsourced their security to the Americans?

Emmanuel Macron: Listen, I think you always have to remember where you come from. I’m not lecturing anyone. France was liberated [during world war two] with its allies and thanks to its internal resistance. It emerged with the same fortitude and international generosity as our allies, who could have left us on the sidelines. We were very weakened. The war put us at the heart of the international system and helped us to build a strong army. And France has equipped itself with a strategic grammar and military capabilities that are the product of this history. We acquired nuclear weapons very early on, which gave us a form of strategic maturity. Our British friends also have it, with a closer relationship with the United States of America.

And as for the rest of Europe, who can judge? In a world that moves so quickly, we think that everything is fast. You have a reunited Europe that is the product of the last 35 years, but some of whose members lived under the Soviet yoke from 1947 to 1990 and feel that they were abandoned by the West. And since 1990, this Europe has thought of its security essentially in terms of the American shield and nato. I said as much in your columns in the interview in 2019 [the “brain death” of nato], and I take full responsibility for what I said. This does not allow Europe to have a common security framework, a common concept, because it puts us in the position of thinking about our security only by way of an ally who is being asked to think about it, to carry far too much of the burden, the United States of America. Above all, it puts Europe back to back with Russia, of course, even if we are in fact back to back with Russia today because of the war in Ukraine.

So there is indeed a strategic awakening in Europe as a result of Russian aggression. This awakening is taking place in several ways. We are seeing it today with the capability proposal put forward by the Germans, the European missile-defence shield. Or with Poland, which says it is ready to host nato nuclear weapons. I think that we Europeans need to get round the table and build a coherent framework. That’s what I’ve been saying since 2017. As Europeans, we need to work out how we can credibly defend our space and how, in a credible and sustainable way, we can build a guarantee of security for each of the member states—as I said in Bratislava—including for the countries on Europe’s eastern flank. nato provides one of these answers, and there is no question of brushing nato aside. But this framework is much broader than what is currently being done within nato. What I would like to see is a discussion within the framework of the European Political Community. You have around the table all the countries of Europe in the broadest sense of the term, and we have a basis for discussion with the cooperation arrangements that exist among member states of the eu, but also bilateral cooperation. The most structural for us in this respect is undoubtedly the one we have with the United Kingdom, and the Lancaster House treaties.

The Economist: And on these issues, what could you concretely build in terms of defence and security with the British?

Emmanuel Macron: I said as early as 2019, when the United States, unilaterally, withdrew from the inf treaty, declaring that the Russians were no longer respecting it. We have risks linked to Russian missiles. We have the Russian nuclear risk. We now have a ballistic risk, which could touch part of our continent, and perhaps the risk of proliferation in Iran and others. We have risks in the Mediterranean. Let’s recapitulate the risks that we are facing.

Then let’s look at the right strategic concept for dealing with them together. Do we want to have equivalent capabilities? Do we want to have defensive caps? Do we want to have equivalent offensive capabilities that enable us to defend ourselves while remaining within a non-ballistic, non-nuclear space? Do we also want a deterrent capability, with two countries that today possess it, namely the United Kingdom and France? And then, once we have defined this concept of security, which remains to be discussed, negotiated and defined: what do we do with air-defence systems? Which ones are useful against which missiles? In what capacity and for what purpose? What medium to long-range firing capabilities do we want? We have some of the best manufacturers to do this. What European programme are we going to launch? Then there’s the question of how we want to use our nuclear capability, without losing our sovereignty. All this has to be taken into account.

This is a big, beautiful and existential debate that Europeans must have, and one that is not reduced to the European Union. It is a debate that each member state must have, while retaining its sovereignty in terms of its own capabilities, but also by agreeing to combine these sovereignties in order to come up with a joint response on a continental scale. And this joint response will have to involve links of solidarity such as those that we already have within the framework of nato with article Five and within the framework of the European Union treaty with article 42-7 What we need in the coming months is to finalise this discussion, because it’s the only way to make us credible. It’s also the only way to dispel existing ambiguities and lighten the American burden. And it’s the only way for us to make the right industrial choices in Europe.

The Economist: Are you saying that with the UK you are ready to have a much more in-depth discussion, even before the UK general election, on enhanced security cooperation for the whole of Europe?

Emmanuel Macron: First of all, we have bilateral cooperation. It is essential and I think it makes the UK a privileged partner of France. Secondly, I want us to deepen this partnership. Thirdly, this partnership is there, on the table. But I think we need an in-depth strategic discussion with all Europeans who are prepared to do so.

The Economist: With the United Kingdom, Norway and others that are not in the European Union, on security?

Emmanuel Macron: Exactly.

The Economist: And on France’s nuclear deterrent? Are you prepared to have a discussion now with your European partners on how to extend the French deterrent to Europe?

Emmanuel Macron: Deterrence is at the heart of sovereignty. So the French nuclear deterrent, including through its rules of engagement, is the quintessence of the sovereignty of the French people, because it’s the President of the Republic as head of the armed forces who defines the engagement of this nuclear force in all its components and who defines France’s vital interests. It’s not a question of changing that. But it is a question of saying, by the nature of our vital interests and the choices we make, our geography, that we are contributing to the credibility of European defence. So we have a strategic framework. President Mitterrand was the first to indicate that Europe was one of our vital interests. Without going into further detail, without creating elements of systematicity and according to a line of reasoning that is also known to our partners and which creates limits for them. Because it is precisely a sovereign choice made by France and its President. But I think that if we want to build an effective and credible strategic concept of joint defence, which is the prerequisite for a joint security framework for Europeans, nuclear weapons must be included in the debate, within the known limits that govern their use and without changing these. So I propose to say that we have this capability, it is there, and it should be taken into account and understood by our partners in order to avoid duplication, and to avoid escalation, which would be pointless when we have these capabilities, without nonetheless sharing them. Given the political sensitivities of different countries and our own rules of engagement

The Economist: In practical terms how do you convince both the frontline countries, Poland for instance, which may doubt the American guarantee and might think, in a world where nuclear weapons are becoming more common, where South Korea has a nuclear weapon, or Japan has a weapon, how do you a) convince Poland that it doesn’t need a nuclear weapon of its own and b) convince Russia that the guarantee that you are offering is credible?

Emmanuel Macron: These are two very important questions. The first is about nuclear weapons and proliferation. I think that we Europeans and Americans need to make a massive new effort, and I hope to bring the Chinese on board too. China has an objective interest in partnering with us on this issue. We must resume the fight against nuclear proliferation. We need now to rebuild a framework for managing regional destabilisation, ballistic activity and Iran’s nuclear programme. This is absolutely fundamental and we need to put the pressure back on to prevent nuclear proliferation. The second point is that many of the countries you mentioned may have capabilities, but they don’t have nuclear capability as such. You have countries that may have nuclear bombs, but under American decision-making and the American umbrella, which is very different from British or French capabilities. You [the British] have a sovereign choice and, in the case of France, complete control over the process and no dependence. It’s very important to distinguish between the two.

I’m convinced, and I will make every effort, at least as far as France is concerned, to discuss this with the Americans, the Chinese and all those who are prepared to work to combat proliferation. Because a world in which more and more states control nuclear and military nuclear capabilities is a world of danger and disorder. Then we have an interest in the day after [Russia’s war in Ukraine] in the joint security framework that we are going to devise for the continent.  Europe must be at the table to negotiate it and discuss security guarantees. With regard to ballistic deployments, there will be elements of limitation—in any case, this is the grammar with which we have lived until now—of nuclear weapons, which must certainly also involve the Americans. And there will also be a dialogue on the nature of the partnerships that Europeans will have within the framework of NATO and the European Union, but more robust than those we’ve established in the past. But that’s the day after. It’s far too early to talk about that today.

Finally, I’m convinced that if Europeans learn to better coordinate their capabilities, if they continue to arm themselves, if they strengthen their “strategic intimacy”, thanks to nato, of course, but by going further than we do today, we’ll be more credible in the face of Russia. We have credibility because we have two European nuclear powers among the European countries that are members of nato today. For many others, the American guarantee today, and I hope tomorrow a joint framework of security and joint credible defence, a profound aggiornamento, and an economic force and a massive European industrial and technological defence base. That’s why it’s also one of the most important elements. One of Russia’s strengths today is that it is able to invest a lot and produce a lot because it has organised its base. It’s a long-term effort that is unsustainable in military terms. Devoting a third of its budget to defence is not sustainable for a country whose gross domestic product is lower than that of France, Germany or the United Kingdom. If we all pull together, we can do it, and that’s why the famous adage is truer than ever: “there is strength in numbers”. It’s Europeans’ strength.

The Economist: So, in a way, what you’re saying is that the European Union is not enough?

Emmanuel Macron: I’m a pragmatist. I believe very deeply in Europe. I think that the European Union has not conceived of itself as a military power. The only way it has thought militarily is through Article 42-7 of the European Union treaty, to which it has given little substance until now. nato is a useful framework and over the last five years we have been able to build this European pillar of nato. I think there is intergovernmental dialogue and a desire to build a joint defence industrial base, to do research, innovation, to develop an industry of big projects, and to build standards. But it would be a mistake to exclude countries that have never been in the eu, or recently were, such as Norway, the United Kingdom or the Balkans. We have joint missile programmes, including with the British. We have developed joint intervention and protection operations at sea with Norway. Europe needs to look at its geography. So the framework isn’t institutional, it’s geographical. This space is there, it’s the space that we’re building and which, in my opinion, by virtue of its novelty, must correspond to the times and not take on board the passions of the past.

The Economist: If the American nuclear umbrella isn’t considered entirely guaranteed do you think that France and Britain need tactical nuclear weapons as well as strategic nuclear weapons in order to manage the potential escalation?

Emmanuel Macron: France has always rejected the use of tactical nuclear weapons, our doctrine being one of unacceptable damage and not that of limited nuclear war. You are right to ask the question, but I am right not to give you a clear answer. Firstly, because on this issue, silence is golden. Secondly, because we don’t engage in political fiction and I don’t want to cast doubt on the American guarantee. But it is obviously a question that we must ask ourselves. And that’s why I think it’s in our collective interest to limit proliferation as much as possible. The French doctrine is based on the principle of strict sufficiency.

The Economist: We want to talk about China. Xi Jinping will be in Paris for a state visit next week. It seems increasingly clear that China is trying to use exports to compensate for its economic slowdown. The United States is closing its markets. What will your message be about how open the European market is to China?

Emmanuel Macron: Here too, we have to be very pragmatic and look at this issue in the light of our strategic interests. And sometimes we have given in to too much dogmatism or fragmented interests. First of all, and this is one of my main objectives in welcoming President Xi Jinping, we must do everything we can to engage China on major global issues, and discuss economic relations that are based on reciprocity.

China is crucial when it comes to major questions about the planet, starting with climate and biodiversity. I haven’t forgotten that if we succeeded in reaching the Paris climate agreements nearly ten years ago, it was because of remarkable diplomatic work and a Sino-American agreement a few months earlier. That was the precondition for everything. There will be no progress on climate and biodiversity if there is no agreement with the Chinese on these issues. So the role of Europeans is to do everything we can to facilitate a consensus on these major climate and biodiversity issues.

Secondly, it’s in our interest to ensure that China has a say in the stability of the international order. It’s not in China’s interest today to have a Russia that destabilises the international order, an Iran that could acquire nuclear weapons and a Middle East that is plunged into chaos. So we need to work with China to build peace. I hope that China will support an Olympic truce and be committed to the fight against nuclear proliferation in order specifically to tighten the framework vis-à-vis certain powers.

Finally, there is the economic question. We in the West have not always been clear with the Chinese. Firstly, because European interests have not always been clear. Until recently, China was seen as a big export market. France de-industrialised 20 years ago. We didn’t benefit much from it, but we saw China as a good export market for the European car industry, especially the German car industry. I respect that. It created a lot of jobs, not just in Germany, but all over Europe. Does this still hold? The answer is no. Because today, China has an overcapacity of vehicles and exports them on a massive scale, particularly to Europe. Does this mean that some European manufacturers have an interest in seeing this situation continue? The answer is yes. Because they receive subsidies in China and can produce and sell in China and export their excess capacity to the Chinese market. Is this good for Europeans? The answer is no. So when it comes to trade, I’m in favour of looking at things in the face. China is in a situation of excess capacity, so China is no longer necessarily, or at least not massively, a major export market for Europe. It’s a large market that itself exports. So that’s the first thing that has changed.

At the same time, the multilateral context has changed, which is more because of the Americans. For 30 years we’ve been saying that we’re going to do everything we can to bring China back into line with international rules. We brought China into the wto, and then we realised that the rules were not being respected, that dispute settlements were not effective, that the wto was not effective enough, and that, as a result, we were not sufficiently protected. And then, in the end, everyone gave up asking. I have pushed this agenda of modernising the World Trade Organisation several times. Everyone underestimated the value of modernisation. And the same goes for the United States. The Inflation Reduction Act, which is a conceptual revolution in economic terms, was a key issue during my state visit to the United States in 2022. The Americans have stopped trying to get the Chinese to conform to the rules of international trade. They have taken their own action. And we Europeans haven’t wanted to see this. That’s a huge mistake. When you have the number one, the number two, who decide in all conscience to subsidise critical sectors that they consider essential for them, who are prepared to put public money into attracting capacity, you can’t carry on as if this isn’t happening. The wto today is in deep crisis. It’s up to us to reinvent it for the 21st century.

That’s why I called for this awakening. And that was one of the subjects of my speech at the Sorbonne: we regulate too much, we don’t invest enough, we don’t protect enough. That’s not a dirty word. I’m not trying to say that I’m against trade deals. We are ten times more open than the Americans or the Chinese. The consequence is that today we must behave respectfully towards China in terms of trade, but in a way that defends our interests, is reciprocal and promotes national security. Very clearly, on electric vehicles, photovoltaics and wind power, I defend the investigations that have been opened by the European Commission. Because we simply have very different rules for our products, and there are products that are much more heavily subsidised but, above all, do not have the same tariffs. We cannot sustainably have a Europe with rules that limit subsidies to these producers, who are taxed at 15% when their electric vehicle enters the Chinese market and who, when the Chinese vehicle arrives on the European market after receiving massive aid, are taxed at 10%. Reciprocity: that’s the first point.

We mustn’t forget national security issues. There are many sectors in which China demands that producers be Chinese, because they are too sensitive. Well, we Europeans have to be able to do the same thing and say that there are sectors that are a matter of European national security. This is the new economic paradigm that I explained at the Sorbonne, which is basically simplification, massive decarbonised industrialisation, much faster investment, a policy of r&d, innovation and productivity, and protection through trade policy, which must have mirror clauses and measures. These five principles are fundamental if we want prosperity in Europe. And this is also what I want to engage China on. I draw these five principles not just from a profound change in China’s economic situation, but also from a change in American trade and economic policy.

The Economist: Is it possible do you think to preserve the single market as it is enshrined in laws and processes at the same time as you protect key industries both in green areas and defence, and in advanced technologies like materials and quantum computing? Is it possible to do that, to have the subsidies and the specialisation that create national champions, to suspend laws about the concentration of power in certain industries, while maintaining the single market?

Emmanuel Macron: That’s a very good question. 1) By changing the approach to what is European. We need a culture of simplicity and subsidiarity. We have too many norms, they are too detailed, too pernickety. This leads to a loss of competitiveness. That’s the cost of norms. 2) By adopting a community approach with 27 member states. Today, we have to some extent created a system where the European market works for consumers, but not enough for producers. And countries face a situation where there are still national regulations in many sectors, where subsidies and even the European approach hasn’t been adapted in this respect because it has given more room for state aid. Now if we say that the right scale is the market of 450 million inhabitants, of course the single market is an opportunity. But if you have common budgetary capacities and not national ones, and if we look at the European Union as a whole, it is under-indebted and very under-indebted compared with the United States. Common budgetary capacities, risk-taking at a European level, mean deciding to have champions and therefore putting an end to the idea of a geographical return to 27 [member states] and saying to ourselves that we want three or four champions in the space industry, three or four in artificial intelligence, three or four in quantum. So we have to accept that we are going to invest a lot of European money and that countries, in groups, are going to specialise. And this will be good for everyone in the end. That’s why the key is a joint financing capacity, because that’s the only way to get rid of this national fixation. Too many national rules, aid that remains state aid and not enough European public and private financial intervention, not enough European champions, not enough European disruptive  research and innovation programmes. Hence my idea of a European darpa. If we do this among Europeans, if you create a European ira, but with real massive European projects, with risk-taking, acknowledging that this is not national or political, this is industrial technological power, it will work. And that’s what we need to change.

The Economist: But it requires Europe to get over the idea of a “fair return”.

Emmanuel Macron: Exactly. Look at the space industry. What is undermining Ariane 6 is European short-sightedness and national egoism. Ariane 6 is the precondition for independent access to space for Europeans. We can’t be told that SpaceX is more efficient. SpaceX is a programme largely funded by the US Department of Defense. But it’s not just the genius of an entrepreneur, it’s also a lot of federal money. It’s a lot of American taxpayers’ money that has enabled SpaceX to be competitive. We’re doing the opposite. And in the space industry, a fair return creates a lack of competitiveness. You create more production sites, so you are much more expensive than your competitor who has only one. And because you’re obsessed with a fair return, you even look at each part of your value chain and let in competition in ways that create division. And so you have chains, players in the value chain who prefer to play with Americans rather than Europeans and destroy you. So, yes, the idea of a geographical fair return is an obstacle to competitiveness. This will create a lot of political tensions for us. But it’s the job of politicians to do that. Otherwise, if we don’t know how to go beyond that and create a sort of common European interest, we’ll never have a real Europe.

The Economist: It says a lot that one of the responses to your speech at the Sorbonne is: ah there go the French, they are just saying these things for subsidies because they just want to get their own national champions some help. The level of trust in Europe has to be raised and the vision you’ve laid out has to be adopted by other leaders, no?

Emmanuel Macron: You’re right. But everyone accepts losing this fair return if we do it. Everyone. But it’s simple: if we don’t do it, what’s the right strategy? The most effective battery strategy in Europe? We did ipceis [Important Projects of Common European Interest] with the Germans in 2018, and it worked very well. That was before the IRA. With Chancellor Merkel, we had first results with four plants in France. But today, Hungary is also benefiting from this strategy, with players setting up there. And it shows that this can benefit everyone. If we know how to create proper rules. The level of trust works if there’s a common actor from the outset. That’s another reason why we need a much stronger common budget. And it’s a common budget that creates confidence. But this confidence is now being destroyed because everyone is looking at who is using state subsidies and how. And it’s clear that it’s those who have the most budgetary capacity that can make the most use of them. Nor is it a way to create confidence. I’ve heard the Italians and others say, quite rightly, that those with more budgetary capacity will make faster progress on the industrial front. No, we have to respond to that. No one will be totally happy because we can always say that we could have done more individually, but it will be good for everyone because that’s how we’ll create real champions. Because it’s simply at European level that we’ll have the real significant investment capacity to compete with the Chinese and the Americans.

The Economist: Can European sovereignty, which you mentioned at the outset, survive contact with the influence of nationalists and populists? How can it be preserved?

Emmanuel Macron: Today, first of all, I note that this is the case. I’m a patriot, I love my country and Europe. I think that the two complement each other. So we shouldn’t let it be said that those who are European are against the interests of their nation state. But nationalists, who were elected on a platform of doubt about Europe, I note that they are acting more like Europeans, and I am delighted about that. The President of the Italian Council, at least today, has a European approach. In fact, she supported the asylum and immigration pact. After that, the best way of building together is to have as few nationalists as possible.

The Economist: How exactly can you stop nationalists?

Emmanuel Macron: By being bold enough not to think that their rise is inevitable. What kills me, in France as in Europe, is the spirit of defeat. The spirit of defeat means two things: you get used to it and you stop fighting. Politics is Eros versus Thanatos. That’s politics. If Thanatos is hungrier, death wins. If Europeans are on the side of Eros, it’s the only way to manage. Don’t be afraid, be bold. Look, there are great things to be done. That’s the first point. The second is “what’s-the-pointism”, cowardice. People look at the polls, but polls don’t make politics. It’s your ability to get things done that does. And so everyone says that nationalism is on the rise. Obviously, that’s simpler. But nationalists are distorting the European debate. Brexit has impoverished the United Kingdom. Brexit has done nothing to solve immigration in the UK. Well, despite that, some people think it doesn’t look so bad. But nobody dares to say that anything is wrong. And so nobody is taking responsibility for anything. The Rassemblement National wanted to pull out of Europe, out of the euro, out of everything. Now it no longer says anything. It’s reaping the benefits of Europe, while wanting to destroy it without saying anything. And that’s true in every country, it’s true everywhere. And so in a way it’s as if we were saying it’s not a problem if we entrust the bank to robbers. When they are around the table, they take Europe hostage. They tell you that if you don’t pay, I won’t let go. That’s not reasonable. So I say to Europeans: Wake up. Wake up! They are hidden Brexiteers. All European nationalists are hidden Brexiteers. It’s all the same lies. In the end, it’s the same results. And make no mistake. If you entrust the keys to people who think like they do, there is no reason why Europe should become a great power. No reason at all.

The Economist: But they’re not closet Brexiteers, are they? Brexit was not a project to destroy the European Union. Nationalists here, they want to destroy it from within?

Emmanuel Macron: It’s both. First of all, they want to make their country stronger. They’re not going to tell you that they want to destroy it. They’re going to say, first, that France will be much better off outside the European Union. And they will present you with the same figures as yours, saying that without the cap, things will be much better. In fact, that’s what they’re doing. The Rassemblement National does not vote for the Common Agricultural Policy. Yet France is the farm in Europe that receives the most from the cap. They don’t vote for it, but they tell farmers that with them, things will be much better, that they will rid farmers of all the rules. That’s true. But where are they going to find the €9.5bn in funding? They don’t explain it.

The Economist: Could Europe, the European Union, survive a nationalist takeover in France?

Emmanuel Macron: As you can see, I’m fighting. We have to fight. Read Marc Bloch again! That’s all I have to say. That’s what we’re seeing in Europe. And it particularly affects the elites. Politics isn’t about reading polls, it’s a fight, it’s about ideas, it’s about convictions, it’s about reaching out to people, it’s about guts.

The Economist: Do you think you have a much more dark vision today, after seven years in power? Because in 2017, your trademark, so to speak, was optimism.

Emmanuel Macron: I’m still an optimist! But then, the world is a darker place. You have to be lucidly optimistic and determined. We had the Covid pandemic. We have the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine. We have unprecedented Sino-American tension. We have the terrible war in the Middle East, which is shaking our societies to the core. We have massive divisions throughout Europe. We have enormous geopolitical risks. So, as you can see, yes, the world is a dark place. But I firmly believe, even though I’ve doubtless aged, that I haven’t lost my enthusiasm or my iron will. And when I tell you that it’s the question of Eros, that’s really what it’s all about. If you tell people it’s over, it’s already over. They’ve already lost.

The Economist: Around the table in Europe there will always be at least one leader who is either from the nationalist-populist camp or frightened of the populist-nationalists back home. Yet some of the things you want require unanimity. How do you get all the leaders together to take the decision to move to qualified majority on matters of increasing the budget or foreign policy?

Emmanuel Macron: I’m going to tell you the truth about this. We have a Franco-German agreement with Chancellor Scholz: a move to qualified majority voting on the two main issues that still require unanimity, namely taxation and foreign policy. The reality of European practice is that even when you have a policy that is under qualified majority voting, when you are at a moment of crisis, a serious moment, unanimity comes back in because the leaders bring it back to the council table. So we shouldn’t see this as an institutional issue. The key is how we implemented the recovery plan for July 2020, when €800 billion euros was decided. And how we didn’t manage the financial crisis of 2008-2012, and didn’t decide on European solidarity. We do it by putting energy in the system and by showing that, in the end, the common interest vis-à-vis external risk is stronger and justifies unanimity and solidarity.

The real difference between these two crises is that the 2008-2012 crisis was seen too much as an asymmetric shock affecting certain countries. As a result, we took an internal crisis approach and underestimated the external risk, which was based on managing the financial crisis too slowly. I think we need to be very clear about that. And this crisis has taken a lot of growth away from us compared to the United States. I think we reached a consensus very quickly in 2020. We weren’t any smarter in 2020, but we very quickly reached a consensus. First of all, there was a Franco-German agreement that unblocked everything in May. In any case, it was a thunderbolt that enabled us to reach an agreement in July. But we debated it for three days and three nights, and it was a Homeric affair. For me, it was the most dramatic [European] council ever. But in the end, we decided on something historic, something unthinkable. We did it because in the end, whatever our political sensitivities, there was still the conviction that we were all in the same boat and that whatever our internal divisions, the external risk was greater.

And that is also why I say that Europe is mortal, that it can die. I want to impress on other European leaders and on all our fellow Europeans that the risks we face, the risk of losing our security and not having a credible defence, the risk of losing our prosperity and seeing the major technological choices in artificial intelligence or green technologies made elsewhere, and the risk of collapsing in on ourselves if we don’t regulate things properly in digital technology and elsewhere, are risks that come from outside. And whatever our differences, and even when you’re a nationalist, you can have different sensitivities, at some point you have to realise that the risk is such that it justifies coming together. And I believe in that profoundly. I think that’s what makes me optimistic about what we can do. Now we’re going to have to put some energy into it.

The Economist: Can I ask one question about the role of the United States? Behind our conversation is the idea that the US to some extent is withdrawing, and that this could be dramatic under Trump or more gradual under Biden, who may be the last trans-Atlantic president. Yet the US faces a contest with China greater than any since perhaps the Soviet Union in the 1950s. Isn’t it much easier for the US to win that contest and perhaps necessary for the United States to win, to do that with Europe? Isn’t China going to drive America and Europe together again much as the Soviet Union drove Europe and America together after the second world war?

Emmanuel Macron: First of all, I think that the priority of the United States of America is the United States of America and that’s normal. We must not underestimate the deep, internal crisis that American society, this great democracy, this economy is going through. And I’m not underestimating it because it’s also the one we’re experiencing, even if the US is, if I may say so, in the vanguard. The second priority is China, and this is, I believe, a bipartisan issue. We’re lucky to have this American administration for Ukraine. It has made an incredible commitment alongside us, being the leading contributor to the economic and capability effort. So many thanks to the Biden administration. After that, whether it was for aukus, the withdrawal from Afghanistan or the ira, Europeans weren’t consulted. Nevertheless, President Biden knows Europe, loves Europe and is an extraordinary friend of Europe. But on closer inspection, the deep system does not always take Europe into account. And, in ten years’ time, faced with these challenges, we Europeans must organise ourselves and be more autonomous, including vis-à-vis the Americans.

After that, the question is what is the American strategy towards China and what is the Chinese strategy towards the Americans? I prefer to choose my relationship with the United States, with China, rather than have it imposed on me by one of the two parties, either pushing me in one direction or pulling me in the other. Very clearly, we are not equidistant. We are allies of the Americans. We have disagreements from time to time, and we must be able to acknowledge and respect these disagreements. We also have trade relations with China, which is a great power. We need it, we can trade with it within the limits I mentioned earlier, and China is also fundamental to major issues such as climate and stability.

Then I look at the planet: billions of people live neither in China nor in the United States of America. From India to Brazil, from Africa to the Indo-Pacific, all these people are saying: we have preferences, friends, sometimes the same as you, but we would still like to find a space where we can defend our values and our interests, continue to work with one and continue to be involved to some extent with the other. It’s good and necessary that Europeans can continue to talk to this part of the world too. And that’s the whole point of what I’ve done with the Paris Pact for People and Planet. There’s an agenda for fighting inequality and for development and investment based on solidarity. There is an agenda for the climate, for biodiversity, which must be thought through with this part of the globe that is in the majority. And it cannot be regarded exclusively through the lens of Sino-American tension.

The Economist: You can interpret Biden’s support for Ukraine as very much going along with his China policy. It’s a way of dealing with possible problems in Europe. It’s a lesson to China about Taiwan. It reassures allies in Asia, South Korea and Japan that America is willing to do these things. There’s a confluence of interests in Europe and China. My question is whether that won’t replay itself again and again?

Emmanuel Macron: You’re right. The question may legitimately arise at some point for the Americans, if there were greater tension with China, and if the war lasted with a commitment, of the sustainability of their global effort. So I think that what you are saying is absolutely right and that it is being analysed by the American administration as you have just done, i.e. this support for Ukraine has strategic synergies for the Chinese agenda.

But there comes a time when it is in the interests of the Americans for the Europeans to play a greater role in the defence of their neighbourhood and in this conflict. Because the Americans cannot be placed in this strategic dilemma. There’s a way of thinking which is to look at the world in a lateral sense, as I have just done. To say: I want to keep my autonomy and I want to talk to all the others. I don’t want to be crushed between two blocs. There is also our complementary way of doing things, which is to say: if I am a good partner of Americans and I owe them a great deal for my security over the last few decades, my responsibility is never to put them in a strategic dilemma that would mean choosing between Europeans and their own interests in the face of China. And so we have to say that it’s our job to do that.

The Economist: I want to come back to the Franco-British question and how can we build something deeper in terms of defence and security? Do you think that it’s possible to turn the page on Brexit, consider each other as serious, constructive partners, and rethink this “multiple geography” that you described at the Sorbonne? Are you ready to work on this, possibly with a new British government?

Emmanuel Macron: The European Political Community summit that is going to be held in July [at Blenheim Palace], and the bilateral exchanges we will have had, should open up real strategic work on these issues. And the bilateral relationship is key on this issue given the history, the strategic culture and the British model and what we are. This is really important. So it’s not as if Brexit has been wiped out, because there are consequences for the single market and for cooperation, and there will be in the long term. But I don’t think it should prevent us from moving forward at full speed on strategic and military issues.

The Economist: So you do see an opportunity?

Emmanuel Macron: Yes, and it’s very important that we do it together. I said from day one that Brexit would have no impact on the bilateral relationship, particularly on defence, because it is a special relationship and it is particularly special on these issues. This is one of the key objectives, that we succeed in moving forward on this and that we also develop joint capabilities, that we have joint projects, that we move forward very strongly on this and that we also re-engage the British in a dialogue with other Europeans. We need to think in terms of geography. Institutions are not an obstacle. It is the objective that must determine things. And then the forms follow. The European Political Community is a good framework for starting discussions because all Europeans are there and then we’ll see who joins in and how it’s structured. I think it’s very good to have the Western Balkans, the Caucasians and the Nordic countries around the table at times like this, because you can’t talk sensibly about security, cyber issues, strategic risk, even immigration, if you don’t have everyone there.

The Economist: When you sit around the table with other heads of state and government, what is the thing that you find hardest to convince them of? Of all the things we’ve spoken of?

Emmanuel Macron: I would say that today, the issue on which, in my view, there is a doctrinal aggiornamento to be made is undoubtedly that of the model of prosperity that I mentioned, including trade. There are still some very strong reflexes, on the budget issue for example. We are making progress, I hope, on Capital Markets Union. But on the budget issue, we underestimate how far behind we are and the fact that the time to allocate factors is now. And that if we don’t have clean tech and ai now, it’s not in ten years’ time that we can wake up. European gradualism is not adapted to a time of disruption.

On the commercial issue, because Europe thought of itself and lived as an open market, we thought that the right strategy to bind people to us, including strategically and geopolitically, was through trade. Russia has shown us otherwise. Already back in 2018, I was not in favour of Nord Stream 2. I told the chancellor [then Angela Merkel], and we made a kind of deal whereby I would stop blocking Nord Stream 2 and she would not block the nuclear-power issue. But the underlying principle, which suited everyone, was that the more economic trade links we have with other nations, the less likely they are to go to war, the less likely they are to confront us. Wham! Gentle trade was an era of humanity, but it’s no longer the era that works. Now it’s nasty trade. In other words, trade comes second. Geopolitics has taken over from geo-economics, and I believe that this is one of the fundamentals of the new grammar, and it represents a profound break with what we have known since the 1960s. It has to be taken on board.

The Economist: And this awakening is more complicated than the awakening you would like to see on security issues?

Emmanuel Macron: In any case, I’ve been struggling for a long time. But I remain optimistic because I see that Europeans always manage, in the end, if we put the necessary energy into it, if we build strategies and alliances, Europe moves. And Europe is constantly on the move. If we Europeans want to carry weight in tomorrow’s world, we have to be more inventive and more ambitious than the others, because we are lacking two fundamental elements. We don’t have the demographics and we don’t have the energy at this stage. In any case, for the next 20 years, we’ll have an energy problem because the others are producing their own energy, which is still carbon-based, etc. We need to redouble our efforts. We need to redouble our ambitions. Europeans are richer than they think. It’s just that they don’t make good use of their accumulated savings, they don’t use them well across geographies and sectors. It’s not good because they’re letting it slip away to finance and buy American innovation, 300 billion of it every year, instead of developing themselves. So there is every reason to be optimistic if we move forward together. That was the aim of this second speech from the Sorbonne. Let’s look together at the major European risks and let’s not waste our energy on secondary issues of division and so on, because in fact they are less important.

The Economist: Thank you very much

Emmanuel Macron: Thank you

Courtesy: The Economist

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